Secretary-General of the RMT, Mick Lynch, dominated the news headlines last week, with many people praising his straight-talking, no-nonsense approach to answering media interview questions, as well as his quick-witted ability to put aggressive journalists back in their box. Of course, he didn’t win everyone over – but whatever your political views on the strike, it’s clear that over the past seven days Mick Lynch made almost everyone stop and listen for a moment. So, what can we learn from him?
People like it when they feel that spokespeople are actually answering the questions.
Lynch rejected the much-criticised ‘politicians’ approach’ (i.e., not answering the question at all with a phrase like “Before I answer that let me just say…”). He addressed the questions head on, but made sure he brought his answer back to the messages that he had prepared and was there to say. His response to GMB’s Richard Madeley asking, “Are you a Marxist” was a great example of this: “No I’m not a Marxist. I’m an elected official of the RMT. I’m a working class bloke leading a trade union dispute about jobs, pay, conditions and service”.
Get the conversation back on track.
Mick was there to defend a difficult decision, which a lot of people were unhappy about. He could have bombed but instead won many over by rejecting the premise of some of the more incendiary lines of questioning in a very straightforward way, getting the discussion back onto the messages he was there to deliver. As well as Richard Madeley, Lynch did this with Talk TV’s Piers Morgan and Sky’s Kay Burley, among others. And he repeated those messages over and over, to make sure they were heard loud and clear.
Authenticity and a strong personal narrative are highly persuasive.
With so many people growing increasingly weary of leading voices in the news that seemingly lack conviction and credibility, there was no doubt that Lynch was being 100 per cent himself in every media appearance. There was little obvious ‘spin’; no sense of a man peddling insincere lines, but instead proudly articulating who he was, why he was there, and his principles – whether you agree with them or not.
Lynch was at his best when he demonstrated a more measured response. For me, his interview with Dan Walker on Channel 5 News was one of his finest. He was clear, calm, collected and human. There was no aggression or name calling. What we remembered in that interview was his messages about the strike and why it was happening – instead of the story becoming all about him, which is what happened in his more confrontational appearances.
Speak in everyday, clear language and deal in facts.
There was no jargon or slogans or Latin quotes (thank goodness). Inaccuracies were corrected. I would rarely, if ever, recommend to clients that they start calling people liars live on air, but they should always correct misinformation and this he did without question.
Give examples and tell stories about human beings.
This always helps to make audiences understand and feel compassion – even if they disagree with your point of view. Lynch spoke about his members and the impact of the situation on them and their families. Whatever your view, it’s hard not to feel some empathy and/or understanding when you’re forced to see things from another human being’s point of view and to walk in their shoes for a moment.
The spokesperson can control the interview.
A lot of famous interviewers were made to look pretty silly by Lynch. Many of us enjoy it when the more ferocious journalists tear politicians apart with their pointed questions. Let’s face it – it makes for good telly. But Lynch turned the tables with his quick-witted putdowns, which made some of the country’s highest-paid presenters squirm. It didn’t sit comfortably with everyone, and being confrontational with journalists isn’t something I’d advocate to most clients. But for many, the feeling of schadenfreude when watching the tables turn on these high-profile encounters was more than just a little enjoyable.
Media interviews are not always easy, not least when you’re communicating in a crisis and about an issue on the scale of national train strikes. But by communicating with authenticity, staying focused on a few jargon-free messages, and telling human stories that make cold hard facts human and relatable, you can help to persuade an audience to truly consider your point of view.