Don’t start a live interview with ‘thanks for having me’

Can I help you?

There was a moment while listening to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours a few days ago when I almost crashed the car in my frustration at not being able to intervene.

Gerry Miller, CEO of the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, which has appointed a Consumer Champion to look into how the multitude of complaints against installers are handled, was greeted with this combative opening question from presenter Winifred Robinson: ‘There is no way of telling how much of the work that has been done has been substandard because you currently have no way of counting that and yet you are calling yourself…a consumer champion. You’re kidding aren’t you?’

Did he come back with: ‘No, I’m not kidding at all’, or ‘The consumers’ needs are our priority at all times’, or even ‘Let me assure you that we are absolutely serious’.?

No, his lame response was: ‘Well, firstly, thank you for this opportunity to appear…’, as if a polite ‘thank you for having me’ would somehow count in his favour, get him off the inquisitor’s hook and restore his organisation’s public image.

The instinct to thanks interviewers is very common

The instinct to thank even the most churlish and aggressive of interviewers for inviting them onto their programmes and giving them the opportunity to put their side of the story is highly prevalent among even the most senior interviewees. It is one of the most common faults that I find myself correcting in the people I train in media skills.

Here are five good reasons why ‘thank you for having me’ should never be your first response – or even your final comment – in a live media interview:

  1.  It’s ingratiating and, because no one likes a crawler, is unlikely to get the audience on your side;
  2. It puts you in a weak position, implying that the interviewer is much more important than you and that you are very lucky to get a chance to appear on his/her programme. In fact interviewers are simply doing their job and you are the one who has given up your valuable time to answer their annoying, intrusive and sometimes ill-informed questions;
  3. It looks like you are avoiding the question and are not sure of your ground;
  4. It is a missed opportunity. If, as in this case, the opening question contains an accusation, and that accusation is false, your first priority should be to counter it as firmly and conclusively as possible. Otherwise your silence implies assent;
  5. It is a waste of the very limited time you have available to you to transmit the two or three key messages you should have prepared in advance. It should be your goal to create a verbal ‘bridge’ from the first question – whatever it may be – to your most important message and then, if you are not interrupted, to the next one and the one after that. After that keep repeating them in different ways so that no one is in danger of missing the point.

In an interview no one wins any points for politeness alone. Polite insistence is another thing entirely.

Can I help you?

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