I had a fantastic opportunity on Monday to run workshops for academy rugby players as part of the Rugby Players’ Association’s (RPA) Induction Day at Lilleshall Sports Centre.
These induction days aim to provide players embarking on a professional rugby career with skills and awareness in key areas including social media, gambling awareness, choosing an agent and media interview skills.
During the media interview skills sessions, I was asked several questions about media interview conduct, including where do I look, do I have to speak to the media and can I slate the referee. As a follow up, I thought I would put down a few notes about these questions.
These notes might be a useful refresher for those who attended or they might be useful pointers for other young academy players from other regions or sports. They might also be useful for media managers who want to know what types of questions/concerns young players have about doing media interviews so they can raise these during their in-house media training sessions.
1. Where do I look during a TV interview?
A seemingly simple one first up, but one a number of players still seem to struggle with. During a TV interview, look at the interviewer or journalist asking you the questions. The fans are being given a ‘fly on the wall’ experience to your conversation with the interviewer. Looking at the camera breaks this illusion. In some rare cases, perhaps for dramatic or strategic effect, you may look down the barrel of the camera to deliver a particular message. However, by and large, look at the interviewer.
2. Is short and sweet a good strategy?
A lot of media training I have observed has suggested a ‘short and sweet’ approach to speaking to the media is best. However, this depends. Short and sweet can be a good way to deal with difficult questions. However, think about how that comes across if you answer every question that way. Interviews are an opportunity to communicate with a fan base. Being short and sweet all the time can suggest to fans that you don’t want to be there, that you’re unwilling, or that you’re uncomfortable – none of which are good associations. It might be good, if you find a question you feel comfortable exploring at length, to share a few extra details so you can show you are keen to engage with your fan base.
3. Should I cut out my um’s and ah’s?
‘Um’s’ and ‘ah’s’ are normal hesitation markers that even the most experienced players use when speaking to the media. As long as you are not over using them (i.e., “um, yeah, um, the boys, um, played, ah, well, so, ah, yeah, we’re just, um happy to come away with the, um victory) then these are, strictly speaking, nothing to worry about. It’s true that being able to deliver a message without um’s and ah’s can indicate you have a good control over your message and that you may be confident speaking to the media. However, it can also come across as over-prepared. As young players embarking on your careers, getting comfortable with the media and getting your message right, i.e. ensuring you’re a humble, team player who can represent your team brand responsibly, is worth more concern and attention early on. Work on polishing your delivery when you get some core strategies in place.
4. Can I avoid speaking to the media?
You may be able to, but why would you want to? If you don’t speak to the media it means one of your other teammates has to step up in your absence. Speaking to the media is another way of doing teamwork and sharing the load. Avoiding it might make you unpopular at the club. Yes, there is the potential for your words to be taken out of context. However, for the most part, the media covering professional sport is largely complimentary and very much a platform for you to present a message (your message and your team’s message) and share your experiences with interested fans. Avoiding it is something you might regret later in your career. If you have any concerns about a particular interview type, a particular media outlet or speaking during a crisis, speak to your media manager. They may be able to help you with your concerns.
5. Can I slate the referee if they’ve had a bad game?
You can, and players and managers around the world do. But, again, ask yourself why would you want to do this? What do you stand to gain from having a dig at a referee? More importantly, what do you stand to lose? You might feel that a bad performance will go unnoticed unless you criticise it. That is not the case, and there are other, less public avenues through which to express your concerns. My advice would be to look after yourself as a young player and try to evade questions that could land you in a mess (those who attended the RPA workshops had a bit of practice at that). This includes questions about the sporting body and the wider rules of rugby. Making comments about referees and their performances in the media might be something to consider later in your career (if at all) when you are part of the leadership group, and even then it needs to be done carefully. Your reputation as a professional is more important in the early stages of your career, and getting a reputation for criticising referees is not something you want to be associated with.
For any media managers reading, feel free to add your own pointers below.
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— Kieran File (@KieranFile) August 24, 2015