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What We Can Learn From Thatcher's Radio and TV Interviews

17/04/2013 12:09 BST | Updated 16/06/2013 10:12 BST

It's all there. It's really striking how all the current advice on making an effective professional impact in news interviews can be seen and heard in Mrs Thatcher's TV and radio interviews, first as Conservative Leader of the Opposition and then as UK Prime Minister. Her critics called her a suburban housewife made good. But she took the media seriously and acted like a leader from the start. In this she was ahead of her time.

She was well aware not just of how to make her interview content memorable but also how to look the part. If you don't look right on TV, we the great viewing public don't listen to you. You must pay attention to looking and sounding confident, well-informed and authoritative in order to have a fighting chance of getting anyone to remember anything you say.

Voice

Like the Queen, Mrs Thatcher started off her career in public life, when she became an MP in 1959, with the high female voice tones of the 1950's. For those who don't remember when women had to have girlish little voices, you can listen to Her Majesty or to Mrs Thatcher's early recordings. You will hear the high light tones of women in a man's world. Margaret Thatcher was criticised for changing her voice - but then she was criticised for everything she did. In fact lower voices work well on radio and TV and the light old-fashioned 'feminine' voice doesn't.

Clothes

Mr Thatcher developed her own signature professional image with her tailored suits - always with skirts and not trousers. Suits gave her a look of authority and seriousness. Jackets always frame an interviewee and make both men and women immediately look more credible on TV. Common sense applies - a care worker or a worker at a nursery can wear a cardigan and it will look appropriate, and a high viz jacket and a hard hat look OK on a building site. But jackets are best if you're running the country or a company or another organisation.

Bad Teeth

The TV screen is small and makes bad teeth look big. Mrs Thatcher had hers fixed.

Hair

On the small screen, if you look even the slightest bit untidy or scruffy, people will instantly judge you as less effective. We all mentally tidy people up when they appear on the TV with hair or clothes out of place. TV is a ruthless medium and hairspray is your friend. This is true for men as well as women if you have hair that can blow around in the wind.

Mrs Thatcher knew that If your hair is untidy in any way, it will distract the audience and they will not be listening to you. I cannot recall ever seeing an interview where Mrs Thatcher's hair blew around. Her faithful police bodyguard, DCI Barry Strevens, revealed recently that hair care was built into her busy daily schedule. "When a new police superintendent arrived in the early eighties, I remember him saying to me: 'Who's this Carmen Roller that the PM sees every morning at 8am?'"

Lest you think Mrs Thatcher was overdoing the grooming and hair styling, her contemporary, Shirley Williams, first a Labour and then a Lib Dem MP, and now a Baroness, was frequently criticised for her untidy hair. Looking untidy on TV just doesn't work for anyone outside the world of sport or celeb culture.

Content

Never be afraid of a cliché to make your position clear, or in Mrs Thatcher's case creating your own- "The Lady's not for turning " etc.. She was also willing to use folksy examples of her 'housewife' knowledge to get across her ideas simply and clearly.

Making statements outlining your organisation's position and setting the context for the interview will answer most of the questions you get and I've noticed in recent days on re-hearing some snatches of Mrs Thatcher's radio interviews, how she had really mastered the art of making a statement and addressing the question on her own terms.

Everyone has to assert their own agenda for their media interviews and use the opportunity to engage the public on their side, and yes I know, Mrs T did go over the top on this in her later years at the top. She could speak for minutes without drawing breath, leaving no way in for the interviewer, and she really tried to bulldoze her way through. Not to be recommended. Ditto her technique of posing her own questions. "And I suppose the next thing you're going to ask me is ..... ....... and my answer to that is..." There are more subtle ways of making sure you get your messages across.

Energy/Passion/Integrity

Mrs Thatcher put all of the above into her interviews. Hearing and viewing her old interviews,you can hear the commitment in her voice and see it in her manner. Energy and passion for your messages are always important assets in getting the public to listen to you and to buy in to what you say. And that applies when you are a spokesperson as much as a Prime Minister.

Mrs Thatcher won three elections in a row - so despite those who always criticised her - she definitely got through to large sections of the British public. And we can all learn some very useful lessons from her commitment to handling media interviews professionally - whatever our political views.