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Media Training 101: Interviewing Boris Johnson

The starting pistol has fired.

The race to Number 10 has begun.

And at stake is who governs the UK.

As well as what happens to Brexit.

And possibly even the future of the UK as one country.

Voters need clarity from the candidates, to help them decide which party to back.

Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in pole position.

But how does his interview technique stand up under the glare of the TV lights?

And what can we learn if we need to put our case through the media?

Read on.

The interview

media training, boris johnson, the interview

Boris Johnson rarely does ‘sit-down’ interviews.

That was true during the EU referendum campaign

It was true during his leadership campaign.

We’ll see if it’s true during the general election campaign.

BBC News viewers were treated this week to a 4 minute, 18-second ‘sit down’ between Johnson and political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

Which you can watch on our YouTube here.

He was colourful in his use of language.

Enthusiastic in expression.

And engaging in his body language.

So the style earned pass marks, with room to spare.

But what did he say?

What did he commit to?

And what kind of Britain is he promising if he wins?

Here’s three ‘golden rules’ he broke.

They go against what we teach in media training courses.

Run from our Glasgow studios and in 25 countries across the world.

Rule one: answer the questions directly

media training, boris johnson, answer the question directly

To be clear.

A direct question demands a direct answer.

Such as ‘yes’.

Or ‘no’.

‘I don’t know’ is another answer.

Or ‘it’s too early to say’.

Followed up with any point the interviewee wants to make.

Here are Kuenssberg’s first six questions.

And Johnson’s responses.

Question 1:

“Are there any circumstances under which you’d work with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party?


“First of all, it’s a great Brexit, it’s a proper Brexit….”

Question 2:

“There are no circumstances under which you’d work with Nigel Farage, that’s what you’re saying?”


“I am very clear that voting for any other party is basically tantamount to putting Jeremy Corbyn in (to Number 10)…”

Question 3:

“Your mutual friend Donald Trump thinks you should work together.  Is he wrong?”


“I am always grateful for advice from wherever it comes Laura…”

Question 4:

“President Trump has also said that your Brexit deal means you can’t do a good deal with the Americans.  Is he wrong about that as well?”


“There’s one thing he’s right about… is there’s no question of negotiating on the NHS…”

Question 5:

“Would you rule out expanding the use of the private sector in the NHS?”


“We are putting £34 billion into the NHS…”

And question 6:

“Do you worry this gamble of going to the country now may backfire for you now just as it did for Theresa May?”


“Honestly Laura, we’ve just got no choice…”

Failure to say ‘no’ to a question often leaves us feeling the answer is ‘yes’.

On whether the Conservatives will work with the Brexit party.

Whether the outgoing PM disagrees with the US President.

Whether he even worries about losing the election.

We have to make up our own minds on what he believes, because he failed to tell us.

Rule two: keep the interviewer out of it

media training, keep the interviewer's name out of it, laura kuennsberg

Three times Boris Johnson used Laura Kuenssberg’s first name in the responses he gave to her questions.

And what’s wrong with that?

He’s forgetting the audience.

It’s the potential millions of viewers, each with a vote.

Adding up to millions of votes.

Whereas Laura Kuenssberg has just one.

So why address everything to her?

One TV friend of mine said he used to feel flattered when Blair, Brown or Cameron would call him by his first name whilst he was doing a live TV interview with them.

I’d tell him:

“Their flattery worked then.”

But to the audience it can seem patronising.

Call the interviewer by their first name before the interview starts.

And after it finishes.

But keep their name out of the interview itself.

Because you’re talking to the audience; the voters.

Rule three: be honest in every answer

media training, boris johnson, be honest in every answer

When you use the word ‘honestly’ in just one answer, what does that say about all the others?

Why did you single out that one answer for the ‘honest’ approach?

Boris was asked if he worried about gambling on an election.

His response:

“Honestly Laura, we’ve just got no choice.”

This comes up frequently on our media training courses.

Whether we’re working with banks, oil companies or the food industry.

Whether we’re helping charities, civil servants or government ministers.

When the words ‘honestly’ or ‘to be honest’ crop up, we immediately ask why they were necessary.

The analysis continues

jeremy corbyn, media training, the analysis continues

As the election campaign picks up steam we’ll look at how other political leaders are faring with their interview technique.

So, tune in next week for the next exciting edition of:

Who should I trust with my vote?


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Images and footage courtesy of BBC News.
Photo of Jeremy Corbyn by KeMiBo / CC BY-NC-SA on

9th November 2019 Featured in: Media training blogs By:

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