In #lockdown, a lot of people are podcasting, video podcasting, hosting webinars/guesting on webinars, vlogging, hosting online masterclasses, and interviewing other people to add value to those masterclasses (colleagues/contacts/experts etc). We’ve all become interviewers (and presenters, but that’s another blog…).

But, can we all BE GOOD INTERVIEWERS? It’s just asking questions, right? And hopefully listening to the answers. So – we just need to be able to (1) speak, (2) listen, and (3) say goodbye at the end?

Sarah Lockett interviewing at ITN
Sarah Lockett interviewing, ITN

Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. And I don’t mean to say that only trained/experienced broadcasters like myself can do it. It just takes a bit of training, practice and knowhow. There are rules, techniques, habits that work – and those that don’t.

I have recently been delivering my updated “Interviewing Skills” training courses (online). They’re one-to-one sessions, with a really valuable interactive element: the trainee interviews me (! which makes a change, as I usually do the interviewing) and we playback/feedback. Depending on what the trainee needs, I pretend to be really dull and long-winded (I know, hard to believe) and they have to zhuzh/sparkle me up, by what they say. And they need to interrupt (in a nice way) to stop me from droning on.

I see the internet defines ‘good listeners’ as:

  • They’re fully present. …
  • They don’t listen to respond. …
  • They react in the moment. …
  • They don’t have an agenda. …
  • They don’t jump to give advice. …
  • They never interrupt. ..

But of course – we’re not there just to listen. This isn’t therapy. We have to shape the discussion, keep it on track, keep it moving, stop it stultifying – and keep it interesting for the viewer/listener.

There’s LOTS to say about being a good interviewer. Get in touch to book a one-to-one session (via MS Teams).

Which one is more engaging?

by Sarah Lockett on July 27, 2020

I was going to title this, “Which one of these women looks less likely to deliver a useful, interesting, structured webinar?”

Nikola Howard – the UK’s leading Low Carb Expert

And I think I know the answer. This is the author and nutrition specialist Nikola Howard, who goes by the title “the UK’s leading Low Carb Expert”. I recently had the pleasure of media training her. She had been using a black screen/sheet behind her to cover up an untidy home office, and to stop viewers being distracted. As you can see, the effect is slightly spooky, as she looms out of the darkness! When I asked if she could tidy up she said, “But I know where everything is!” quite reasonably, you might think – and you can see the logic in that. But it WAS distracting, both WITH the black sheet and WITH the untidy background.

Lo and behold, a few days later when I checked in on her vlog, it was tidy, and 100% better! I know I am becoming a bit of a broken record, but backgrounds matter when we all do video calls from home. This isn’t a palatial living room, with sweeping vistas and expensive art: it’s a small home office. But it’s tidy, there’s a dedicated light trained on the subject and there’s no window immediately behind her (the silhouette look). Plus, there’s a bit of depth to the shot (not the “hostage video” look in front of a blank wall).

Nikola has a lot to say about the low-carb lifestyle, ketogenic diets and all related topics, so if you’re interested get in touch here.

And I have a lot to say about Presentation Skills, Communications Skills, Media Interview Techniques, and all related topics. To book a session (remote or in person) for yourself or a group/team, contact me on

What makes a good event moderator?

by Sarah Lockett on July 26, 2020

This is a job title that didn’t exist a few years ago. No-one ever had an event moderator. They just held a meeting or conference, booked a few speakers and each one did their 20 minute/90 minute presentations – and that was it. Maybe one of the staff members introduced each speaker, and gave the obligatory information about the fire exits “in case of emergency” etc.

But now the most slick events are held with a moderator or facilitator (not quite the same thing).

Sarah Lockett moderating webinar
Sarah Lockett moderating webinar

In recent years I have been working as an event moderator, as I know many of my broadcast journalist friends have too. It’s a role that suits us, with our sense of keeping-to-time (starting promptly and not over-running), and being clear/engaging in what we say. If we are chairing panel discussions, we also use our natural curiosity and journalists’ techniques/skills to guide the discussion. We use our news-values: knowing what is topical, controversial and newsworthy – and also what might be too negative/sensitive for the client to want to discuss (equally, if there’s a big issue which is the elephant in the room, we’ll encourage them to address it, and guide them on how to formulate their answers).

So, what do I think makes a good moderator?

  1. Ask the questions the audience wants to know: Sometimes, when you get a load of experts in a room, they all know the subject so well (backwards, upside-down, inside-out) that no-one asks the basic questions. The conversation becomes impenetrable. There’s jargon, industry terms, assumptions that everyone understands the issues. And they might – depending on the audience – who may be experts, technical people, financial wizards etc. Or they might not, especially online, when you don’t know who’s watching. So, I usually make it a rule of thumb that – if I don’t understand something – I’ll ask. Now, this doesn’t always apply: if I am hosting a medical conference, or something very technical (software, crypto-currencies, how Blockchain works, the minutiae of certain business processes) I have to let some things go. There comes a point when the audience doesn’t want too much detail! I always say: no-one understands how a fax works; we just need to know that, somehow, documents reappear half way round the world looking just as they did when they were fed in, in Timbuktu.
  2. You’re not the star of the show. Sure, be engaging, do a few gags if it suits your personality (and you have a joke ready to go about the subject in hand e.g. “Tunnels and Tunnelling 2020”) but mostly people have come to see the key speakers.
  3. You ARE the star of the show. What I mean is, sometimes your event organisers have booked a really famous person, someone everyone is interested to hear speak, BUT they may not be great at speaking/constructing a presentation/delivering it. So they need YOU to bring out their anecdotes, to react, to “sell” what they’re saying, by
    guiding the audience reaction, maybe adding that final sentence, laughing, doing a punchline. I have interviewed quite a few people now on stage – big names from politics, showbiz etc – but they didn’t want to do a speech. They wanted to be interviewed. The back-and-forth of Question-Answer-Question-Answer breaks up the time. It makes 20 minutes/60 minutes fly by!
  4. Research: Whatever the subject is, do some research. I generally look up the “news” hits on Google, also “images” because this gives me an idea of what something looks like (e.g. company image/branding/positioning, a particular area of technology, the functions of different apps, capabilities of software etc) – and I am quite a visual learner. But (see my point in no.1) sometimes you are NOT going to understand everything (medical research, regulation for financial trading etc) – so know when to quit. Get a general idea, and then rely on your audience understanding the issue, otherwise why would they be attending? As an example, I recently hosted a conference on software used for selling products in the construction industry – very niche. I had to really concentrate – it could very easily go over my head, and they wanted me to summarise what each speaker had said – yikes!
  5. Questions: There’s always that awkward gap when you ask for questions and no-one pipes up. I usually say, “What people usually want to know about this is x…” and I ask my own questions! It gets the ball rolling. So, speak to delegates in the coffee breaks and find out what the issues are (or, if online, this will be part of your research and liaising with the client/organiser beforehand).
  6. The rest: there are lots of articles online listing the skills that make a good moderator, but these are just my initial thoughts. I’ve been hosting quite a few webinars online too, since the Lockdown started, so get in touch if you’d like me to help out 🙂 It’s definitely as asset having a broadcast news anchor hosting, guiding and shaping the discussion. e:

I want to be an expert: Day 1!

by Sarah Lockett on July 17, 2020

We’ve all had to get to grips with new technology this lockdown, doing video calls a lot more, delivering services online, and operating very much in the Cloud.

MS Teams, Sarah Lockett
MS Teams, Sarah Lockett

This photo is of me trying to master Microsoft Teams. Now, I don’t want to come across as a clueless dinosaur, but I have found it quite hard! 🙂 It’s not very intuitive, is it?

It’s probably fantastic once you’ve mastered it, but I am not quite there yet. And, being freelance, I don’t have an IT department to call on. I have relied on YouTube tutorials (which really are amazing, indispensable, essential) to teach me the basics.

I have also had to fight my urge to want to be perfect at MS teams, Day One! As I do with any new skill. But I have had to allow myself the time to learn, to grow, to make mistakes, to be frustrated, baffled, confused, to walk away, make a cup of tea, switch off the laptop, go for a walk, watch some trashy TV, eat some chocolate, eat some more chocolate – and then come back to it and try again. Over several days and, in fact, weeks.

And I have made progress. Some of it was my inexperience with this kind of technology. Some of it was the fact that I didn’t have the right “permissions” or boxes ticked, to do the functions I wanted. Anyway I think we are 95% of the way there. And we will see how smoothly it goes next week when I am delivering some media training via Teams. Fingers crossed.

And, as I always advise people when I am training them, when they’re nervous or unsure of themselves: practise more and do more preparation. Research, read up on the issues, rehearse. I, for one, will have a few more dry runs before we go live.

The good thing about video calls (for me) is that they are a performance. Once the time ticks down and the clock clicks onto your allotted time (58, 59, 0000), you are live! And in that sense, it’s just like the live TV News I have done most of my working life. So I am used to “smelling the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd”, stepping out in front of the cameras, taking a breath – and going for it. But most people perhaps don’t have this skillset in their everyday jobs. So it’s time to practise, get some training, improve, hone, learn and get better.

Get in touch to find out about online Presentation Skills Training, or Media Training, delivered via zoom, OR, as the lockdown eases, in person.