Dr. Lynn Beckwith, the chairman of a local St. Louis-area school board, became a bit of a laughingstock lately after an odd interaction with a local television reporter.
As you’ll see in the video below, Dr. Beckwith started off on the wrong foot by offering snippy answers to the reporter. He forgot that the reporter wasn’t his audience—the parents, teachers, and community members were. And he unnecessarily came off looking petty and hostile as a result.
But that wasn’t what made this interview memorable. It was his refusal to walk away from the reporter.
It’s easy to mock Dr. Beckwith’s approach, and he certainly shouldn’t have announced on camera why he didn’t want to walk away. But his instinct to prevent the reporter from getting the “back to camera” shot was exactly right.
In fact, in a recent series about how to survive ambush interviews, I wrote:
“To avoid the devastating “walking away with back to camera” shot, consider continuing to face the reporter as you walk backwards, delivering the same message a second time. Deny them the defensive-looking visual!”
I didn’t think to mention in that article something that I thought was rather obvious—that walking backwards only works to expanse a short distance (think one end of an office to another)—and not a yards-long parking lot. So what can Dr. Beckwith do if this happens again?
1. Do a Walk and Talk: Instead of standing in the parking lot like a man under siege, he could have invited the reporter and camera crew to walk with him to the front door of the building as he delivered his comments.
2. Invite Them Inside: Dr. Beckwith could have invited the camera crew and the reporter inside the building to do a more rightful interview. He could have asked them to put the camera down and walk with him into the building so they could find a suitable place to speak.
3. Walk Away (The Right Way): Dr. Beckwith was right that this is a less-than-ideal option. But he could have at least diminished the bad optics by turning back to the reporter a time or two during his walk to the front door, cheerfully telling him: “I hope you’ll call my office tomorrow morning to schedule an interview. I’m late for a meeting, but would be delighted to speak with you.”
By the way, yes, the reporter’s closing line was a gratuitous cheap shot. But Dr. Beckwith is somewhat lucky the reporter took it, since it likely shifted at least a little audience sympathy his way.
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