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CASE STUDY: The Value of Preparation

CASE STUDY: The Value of Preparation


I enjoy radio both as a listener and as someone who has spent a fair amount of time working in the medium. When I graduated from university in 1982, I got a place at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication), where I trained as a radio journalist. It’s a time I remember with fondness as the course gave me a good set of professional skills along with an understanding of the importance of preparation.

Preparation is a quality that is often talked about yet underestimated. I’ve lost track of the many occasions when I have interviewed people who can’t talk about their subject in a meaningful way because they haven’t done their homework. Recently I had to cut short an interview with the spokesperson of an organisation who was struggling to answer my questions beyond the usual “Who”, “Why”, “What” and “Where”. It was clear they hadn’t given much thought to what they were going to say or how they would respond to the criticisms of their organisation. The upshot of that encounter was a decision by the production team to avoid booking that spokesperson for any future interviews. So how I do prepare myself?

Three days a week I present Share Radio’s afternoon show “Investment Perspectives”, which focuses on business, economics and politics. Because of the global nature of economics and finance, there will always be an abundance of stories and upcoming events that can never be viewed in isolation. An interest rate decision by America’s central bank (the US Federal Reserve), is as relevant to the United States as it is elsewhere. Similarly, the financial and trade implications from the recent EU referendum are as important to the United Kingdom as they are to countries outside the bloc.

One of the first things I do when I wake up in the mornings is listen to the radio business news both to get a handle on the main stories, and to see how the overseas financial markets have opened/closed their trading day. In many respects the work actually begins before Monday as there’s usually plenty of reading and research to do for the week ahead.

I’m normally in the office between 8am and 8.15. After breakfast, (porridge and a mug of green tea), I log onto my computer to access the Share Radio news agenda, the business press and the opening prices on the European equity markets. “Investment Perspectives” has a wall diary with the names of our guests written in the time slots. 13:00 and 13:30 are given over to a financial markets expert. My job is to read up on the issues they want to talk about and write the interview questions. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job because I am genuinely fascinated at the connection between economics, politics, society and history.

Mid-morning is when I break off from my preparations to do some pre-recorded interviews. Normally there’s one although sometimes it can be more than that. One such pre-record is The Apprentice Investor, which is broadcast every Monday at 4pm. The “Apprentices” are five members of the Share Radio Team who’ve each been given £15,000 of virtual money to build their own share portfolios. They have a minimum of eight stocks which they buy and sell through The Share Centre, (the award-winning share trading platform founded by Share Radio owner Gavin Oldham), and every week two of them appear on the slot. I go through their portfolios with the help of Ed Bowsher (Share Radio’s Senior Analyst), and the recording lasts for ten/fifteen minutes. It’s a chatty, relaxed format where Ed and I question the apprentices about their investment choices and the changes they’re likely to make to their portfolios. What makes this exercise so intriguing is that four of the five apprentices had no previous investment experience and yet their confidence (like their virtual wealth), is steadily growing. Some portfolios are doing better than others but overall everyone has done well and it’s impossible not to be impressed.
Once the pre-records have been “put to bed” it’s back to the business of interview preparations, cue writing and working with the production team to organise the content for half past one to two o’clock. Three interviews are usually reserved for that slot one of which includes a roundup of the main corporate stories.

The first hour of the show is always pacey, though with a slight edge of uncertainty. Uncertainty because I’m always aware that anything can happen: the desk controls, from which I operate or “drive” the programme, could freeze up: a guest might be running late or a live interview could crash on air because a phone connection dies. What do you do in that situation? The first rule is don’t panic. I usually take my research notes into the studio with me so that I’ll have enough material from which to adlib while the producer deals with any problems.

From two o’clock onwards Investment Perspectives plays host to a number of specialist features. There’s the Motley Fool Radio Show (a thirty-minute look ahead to the opening of the US markets from Washington based Motley Fool Radio), book reviews and an interview with the Share Radio contributor Professor John Weeks, who discusses a subject of his own choosing. One of the highlights of the week is the Emerging Opportunities show which is broadcast every fortnight. It’s the only feature on radio dedicated to emerging markets and my co-presenter Gavin Serkin is a pleasure to work with. Gavin has written extensively about this sector for many years and his knowledge is remarkable. He has a vast network of contacts and has persuaded some of the biggest names in global finance to come to the Share Radio studios, including Doctor Mark Mobius, of Franklin Templeton Investments.

When the show comes off air at five o’clock, I’m usually back at my desk talking to the production team about the following days schedule. It’s fair to say that every day is different and that’s what makes my job such a challenge. There are times when I have to think on my feet because it’s impossible to know what else is round the next corner, which is why it always helps to be prepared.