Guy Writes: I’ve been editing the next edition of my podcast, the Near Futurist, and if I say so myself it’s a good one. I take little credit, the interviewee was engaging and really knew his stuff – but I have had to eliminate fillers to make him sound better.

Let’s put it another way: he was one of those people, who, typically of speakers for the last ten years or so, started almost every response with “so”. It’s a good filler to eliminate and it’s worth explaining why.

Eliminate some fillers

First I should make my view clear. “Eliminate fillers” isn’t an absolute command. You can’t take out every “umm” and “aah” and nor should you; if you answered a journalist or podcaster in an interview and got rid of all of them you’d sound unnatural. Most listeners would assume you were reading from a script and that’s never good.

Unless they’re excessive, then. most fillers can stay. There’s an exception though, and that’s “so”. The reason is straightforward: it can actually end up damaging your answer.

I should explain.

Picture of a microphone

Eliminate fillers at the beginning of an answer

Most people who use “so” other than as a conjunction to link two clauses (“I did a big workout so I am tired” is fine) will use it to start an answer to a question. As a journalist I might ask how a company takes its products to the market and the answer might be “So we find the indirect channel works best for us”.

Now ask yourself: would that be stronger or weaker without “So”, as a standalone answer? To me the answer is simple – “so” takes the edge off. In my podcast I’ll try to get rid of it as often as possible and we’ll come to the practicalities in a second. First it’s worth looking at why people use it.

It’s better than “Umm…”

The subhead gives you my best answer. People start with “so” because they feel they have to start speaking immediately and they don’t want to begin “umm…”. In either case it wouldn’t be a comment on their subject knowledge. They just want a second to think and are terrified of silence.

Here’s the big secret: I can cut silence whilst editing my podcast. Radio and TV interviewers can do the same and there’s never any need to worry in a written interview.

But if I’m going to cut it out anyway, where’s the harm? Here’s when it becomes difficult.

An inconvenient stop

“So” tends to flow into the next word. If you start your interview “So I did such and such” and I try to cut “So” out, it can end up sounding like “why did such and such”.

It makes no sense and the listener will soon sort it out in their head but consciously or otherwise they will be distracted. This is why you don’t want “so” at the beginning of an answer – it can make the next word, once “so” is cut off, sound as if it’s starting abruptly. This is why starting with “so” can actually damage your quote; it will sound less natural when it’s removed.

The alternative is better.

I don’t mind listening to you thinking

Your instinct is to start speaking immediately so nobody ends up with silence on their broadcast or podcast. That’s considerate but as we’ve established, we can deal with that. Anyway you don’t work for us, you want to ensure your point is clear and well-made. So here’s what you do.

You take a second. You gather yourself and you think “I’m going to start here and finish there” and then you answer. The result will be the same answer you were going to give – media training is not about lying or removing an honest view from a quote – but better. You’ll have a strong start and a strong finish because you’ve taken a second to plan it.

It’s not a natural technique. We tend to launch into answers immediately, talk over each other a little, stop and start again. It takes getting used to.

It’s more useful to you, though, than starting everything with “so”. If you can get rid of that habit it will pay you handsomely.

Need a hand with your presentation or media interview skills? We can help – email Lindsay and she’ll set us a time for an initial chat.


On-camera confidence can be difficult to acquire. This isn’t because the camera or the TV journalist is out to get you; this is often far from the case. The camera professional will want to make their work look excellent and they’re not going to do that by making you look foolish.

Indeed, part of the trick is to make you look even better than you are. Some people still find it intimidating, though and this is a pity. So many media outlets now incorporate video into their offerings that if you’re a spokesperson, whether a chief executive or a manager, someone is going to ask you to go on screen very soon.

Here are some ideas to help you overcome your fears.

On-camera confidence on Zoom

If you’re hosting a video conference you need to look attentive. This can mean doing the counter-intuitive thing of not looking at the faces of the people on the screen but at the camera. It will then look to the listeners as if you’re looking them in the eye. You can buy a camera that sticks to the screen so the eye line is right – our lead trainer Guy has one – but make sure it’s stuck on properly before you start. If it falls off half way through then you will look as if you’re in the middle of an earthquake!

Think also about livening up any Powerpoint or similar presentations without going berserk. Making individual bullet points on a slide appear individually rather than all at once can be a subtle way of making it more engaging. You might consider putting animations in. Bear in mind that people on slower connections might see them looking very jerky. Also if you’re going to use stock images make sure they’re good ones. The same old image of people shaking hands is dull, dull, dull!

On-camera confidence in a studio

Our main camera operator Paul offers a couple of good tips in our promotional video:

If you don’t have time to watch it, the first thing he says is that if you talk with your hands then tell the camera operator – you’ll look better if they line up a shot with your hands in it properly rather than a tighter shot in which the focus is on your face alone with the odd thumb wafting into view.

We offer media training sessions both with and without a professional camera rig. Each of our camera experts offers so much more than pressing the buttons and operating the equipment; there is no substitute, if you’re likely to go out on video, for sitting under proper lighting in front of a professional-standard rig with an award-winning documentary maker like Paul offering counsel.

More basics

There are other basics to learn as well:

  • Paul Angell and Sophie Aldred at a Clapperton Media session
    Paul Angell and Sophie Aldred at a Clapperton Media Training session

    Look at the interviewer rather than the camera. It always looks more sincere and you’ll find it easier to talk to a single person rather than thinking there are thousands watching on the other side of the lens. If the interviewer is elsewhere and you’re doing “down the line” then you look at the camera.

  • Do as the camera operator suggests – they know what they’re doing. If they make you uncomfortable, though, maybe getting you to perch on a desk when you’d be happier   standing or on a proper chair, say so. It’s your interview.
  • That said, if you’re in a studio and someone advances upon you with make-up, let them do their job.
  • If you’re going to be seated, avoid swivel chairs – you’ll spend too much time concentrating on not swiveling.
  • Also on chairs: if you can avoid chairs with arms, so much the better, you don’t want to look hunched on the TV.
  • Remember people’s attention more or less falls off a cliff when you’re on video. If you can get your points in quickly, even if you have to say “I’ll get to that question in a second” and get them in first (but do come back to the question), you’ll be sure to get your points in.
  • Remember that a good soundbite will be played over and over again. So will a bad one!

That last point is a good cue to remind yourself that the basics count for a lot whichever medium your interview is for:

  • Prepare – you’re allowed to forget a figure or not have a fact to hand but make sure you know your stuff.
  • Try not to be too salesy. If the audience feels you’re just after their money they won’t like it.
  • If a journalist is unusually aggressive or insistent when you can’t answer a question, be polite. The viewers will see you’re being reasonable.
  • Be succinct and keep it as simple as you can. The more brief and memorable your point, the less likely it is to become confused later on.

Finally remember one thing. In spite of all of the horror stories you hear, journalists are unlikely to be out to get you. Unless there’s something seriously wrong (and crisis management is something else), the audience will listen with interest

Do you or your clients need help with your media interactions? Our team is here to help. Contact Lindsay or Guy to arrange an initial chat.

We’ve all seen poor interviewees in the media and let’s be honest, most people won’t be all that terrible. You’re more likely to be indifferent than actively bad.

An indifferent interview, though, is still going to serve you poorly. So here we’ll go through ten tips to make sure you perform better.

Interviewees’ attitudes

It’s worth beginning by checking your view on your interview before you go in. So many of our clients feel they need to answer all of the questions and do nothing else. It’s true that this can be a cultural issue; some of our clients in Eastern Europe get mightily irritated by displays of interviewees changing the subject or moving to a topic that suits them better. Only recently we had an engineer who felt doing anything like that would affect his reputation.

Every rule is going to have its exceptions. Ask yourself this, though: if you’re being paid for your time, your media interview is a business conversation. In any other meeting you’d feel entitled to put your view forward – so why should this change in a press interview?

Trust your expertise and research

You’ll have seen interviews in which the interviewees fluff, dodge a question, are looking for an agenda from the journalist. First, the big secret: the vast majority of journalists are there to tell a perfectly straightforward story. Second, the flustering tends to come out because people may have prepared but they don’t trust their preparation. If you use a PR company (and Clapperton Media Training often works in tandem with such organisations) they will furnish you with information on the journalists, bloggers and other media figures you’re likely to meet; they will anticipate the likely lines of questioning and offer possible answers. Take those elements seriously – they are there to help. Give it only a cursory read-through and you’ll struggle to remember, appearing not to know your stuff.

A related point is that you’re the expert in your topic, you’re close to the market, not the journalist. If the interviewer happens not to know the question that will elicit the most useful fact for the reader, it’s down to you to bring it up.

Know where you’re going

Pic of a satnav to illustrate interviewee setting directionWe often use the image of a satnav in our media training as well as our presentation training. The thing about a satnav is that you tell it where you want to go and it doesn’t take you anywhere that isn’t part of the way to your destination.

Interviews will work best for you if you have a destination or aim in mind. Not that we’re suggesting you ride roughshod over the questions you’re being asked; if you get that reputation journalists will simply speak to someone else next time. However, if you have an aim in mind then just as in any other business conversation you’ll find the result will be better when it’s published. Plus you’ll have an idea of whether it’s been a success or not, depending on what you were aiming for.

Slow down

Several times this month we’ve been training in different places, asked practice questions and found people getting lost in the middle of their answers. We believe this is due to two things. First people think they have to speak immediately a question has been asked. This isn’t the case. The journalist or blogger might want an answer quickly but you don’t work for them, you work for your business. Second this leads to the interviewee beginning to speak immediately rather than thinking about where they’re going to finish.

Slow down. Take a breath. It’s your interview. If a journalist doesn’t like that, tough, Tell them you need to think for a second – what are they going to do, get distressed at asking you a question that provoked some thought? If they really press, tell them you don’t want to mislead their reader/listener/viewer. There’s no comeback from that.

Tell the truth…

Yes we know what a lot of people think of media trainers. But no, we won’t train you to lie. It’s a terrible idea; you have to remember which untruth you’ve told to which journalist for consistency. If you’ve told the truth in the first place it’s never going to turn around and catch up with you. The best interviewees are honest but focused.

…but select the relevant bits

Something a lot of our clients try to do in the practice sessions is to share all of their expertise in a short interview. That’s right, they’ve worked in an industry for ten years and they want to share all of that in a five minute warm-up interview.

They do it because they want to help but the more densely-packed an interview is, the more likely a journalist is to lose the thread and do that human thing of making mistakes. Try finding out about the readership and what they’re likely to need, pick a few vital things and focus on those.

Work up some soundbites

At the risk of sounding fake, soundbites can be really useful when it comes to getting a message understood and shared. If you have a memorable phrase, use it and don’t worry about repeating it once or twice.

Tell stories. About people.

People buy from people and they listen to people. Years ago when lead trainer Guy was working with the Guardian’s “Business Sense” supplement, an offshoot of the technology section and focused on small businesses, he was writing about some software aimed at farmers. The Guardian asked what they could use to illustrate the piece and put on the supplement’s cover and Guy said he could get shots of the software’s box or of the screens while it was being used. The design people rightly asked if they could send a photographer up to one of the customers and get a picture of them; the cover just consisted of two people Guy had interviewed looking at the camera and it was infinitely better than a yawn-inducing box of software.

Watch out for silences

You know that trick you use in interviews when you’re recruiting people? You ask a question, they answer and you smile at them, they feel they have to say a bit more and they end up telling you a lot more than they’d intended? Well, journalists are wise to that one too. If a journalist is playing the old silence trick on you, a simple “Does that answer the question?” will force them either to ask something specific or to move on to something else. Don’t feel you have to “fill”!

Get media training

Oh come on, it’s us, you knew that was coming! Lindsay will be pleased to set up an initial chat with Guy if you click here and we’ll find out which of our trainers is best suited to your needs.

Strategy is a word used too often in public relations circles. Actually scratch that. It’s an over-used term in business overall. People make a list of things to do and they say it’s a strategy. It might be a very good do-list but it’s not a strategy.

People sometimes come to us wanting help with their press interview and presentation skills which is fine, it’s what we do. We want to help you (or your clients if you’re one of our colleagues from the world of public relations) to hold on to the agenda and control the messages people attribute to you in public.

Other times they come to us and it becomes obvious they want us to build their sales. Or do some lead generation.

Don’t get us wrong, lead gen and sales are completely respectable things without which most companies – including this one – would be dead in a very short order of time.

If you don’t apply some sort of strategy, however, there’s no point in even trying.

Strategy and your starting point

Pic of a satnav to illustrate strategyWhat we mean by strategy is that your communications (and the people behind it) need an idea of where they’re going and why. As you can see we have put in a not-at-all predictable picture of a satellite navigation system to make the point. The first thing you need for a satnav to work – let’s take “decent maps installed” and “a signal” as read – is a destination.

Surprising numbers of people, in other words “more than none”, come to us and ask to talk about media and presentation training without a destination in mind. Worse, they come in with an unachievable destination they want to reach.

Let’s take an example. Someone might come in with an idea that they want to prep for an interview with the Economist or Financial Times. They might want to sell more of their product offering, let’s say it’s sourdough starter.

Let’s look at that again. They are thinking there are readers out there who will be looking for bread making tips in the FT. To be blunt: no there won’t.

That doesn’t mean the FT’s readers won’t want to know some things about sourdough starters. If you’re a serial entrepreneur who is doing brilliantly selling sourdough starters your story could be valuable. You could use it as positioning if you were looking for investment.

You’re still only starting

Even then, it’s not going to work unless it’s part of an overall whole. “Please invest in my company because I’ve been interviewed in the Financial Times” isn’t going to get the cash flowing in. It has to be part of an overall campaign and strategy and one which goes much further than a communications exercise; the communications element is one portion of it, albeit an important one.

To stretch the satnav metaphor even further, lead trainer Guy lives near Croydon. If he wanted to get to Brighton but insisted he wanted to travel via the North Circular then a decent working satnav would be able to do it but anyone who knew the geography of southern England would confirm that’s quite a diversion and would slow him down rather than help.

Likewise if your wish was to sell more of your product and you insisted to your PR company that you wanted an interview in the Financial Times they would most likely advise against it. Even if they had the right connection and you had the right story to interest the publication (and these are non-trivial “ifs”) the interview would most likely take up a lot of your time and not get you any closer to your goal. Other moves would be better.

Let’s stop talking about satnavs

To everybody’s relief we’re now going to abandon the satnav image. It’s inexact because in reality not every pitch, even to the appropriate publications, will land. Also your goals might change along the way. Over the last few years we’ve seen the pandemic and its aftereffects having dramatic impacts on the business world, what’s achievable and how.

This is why there is a picture of a chess set at the head of this entry. Guy has been playing a lot of bad chess recently (took it up again in middle age and is nearly at the stage he’d reached at about 11). One thing he has picked up is that if you have a plan that’s better than not having one but there are other moving parts. The King, which you’d planned to trap in three moves, might have the audacity to move. A knight might move in to protect it or the Queen could take your piece.

At all times you need to keep that objective in mind – check that King in such a way that there is no legal move out. But the moves needed to do so will change as the game moves on and if you’re inflexible then the chances are you’ll lose. Worse, if you insist on using only your bishops or only your pawns, you’re going to neglect some pretty powerful hitters. The thing to do is to understand the power of each of your pieces and how they work together.

Back to strategy and media

The best way to go about securing the right coverage to take you where you need to go is with the help of an expert. We’re going to put our hands up and say that’s not us; we’re a training company and can support you in developing and honing those presentation and interview skills you’ll need to deliver those messages and not get blown off course. Your strategy will be best handled by someone with an overview, whether they are in-house experts or a full-blown PR company.

But whatever you do and whether you use an external trainer like Clapperton Media Training, never assume that interview/media skills will work in isolation. They’re there to be part of a strategy. Once you know where you’re going and the staging points en route can you really be sure to get to your destination – then it’ll be worth acquiring and honing your interview skills.