As a specialist in flood risk at Peter Brett Associates, rather than a representative of the Environment Agency, I am often called upon by the BBC and Sky News to give my independent view on technical and planning issues in times of flood.
The media needs passionate views from engineers who stand up for their beliefs
I have been called upon five times during the recent floods and there may well be more calls to come, I was on Sky Business News last Thursday night with Jeff Randall to comment on the Somerset Levels and then to respond to environment secretary Owen Patterson’s comments as he came out of the government’s emergencies committee meeting.
You only get repeat invitations if what you say contributes to the topic of the interview, plus the content and delivery are interesting.
I do try to speak with measured enthusiasm and passion. This is no great task for me as I do passionately believe in what I say. I am also not fettered by having to comply with any corporate policy.
Yes, my marketing department always advises me to keep my responses short and sweet, plus not to be controversial, but I occasionally ignore that.
Without blurring the image, movement of upper body and hands while varying tempo of the voice all helps to make it interesting and engaging. It is ultimately rather a “performance art”. In reality, perhaps it is too much to ask us specialists to do all the above, while ensuring our responses are relevant and accurate. So, practicing the art of expressing our opinions has to be key. It can also help to be a natural extrovert.
Perhaps it is part of our training to be level headed and uncompassionate, but everybody responds to a degree of passion. While we don’t want to go so far as to be overly flippant or frivolous ,there is a balance to be found. As an expert witness in public inquiries I used to be concerned that I did sometimes get excited and emotional. Was this the persona of the expert witness who should be exuding gravitas, I would ask myself. Well apparently yes, as planning barristers assure me that delivering technical evidence with passion demonstrates that you truly believe in what you are saying rather than regurgitating policy and corporate dogma.
I am now much more confident in my professional persona and being confident is key to bringing people with you, as long as it is supported by science.
We should all be more assertive, bolder and prepared to stand up for that in which we strongly believe. Here endeth the lesson.
n Ben Mitchell is partner at Peter Brett Associates