People often ask me who excels at talking to the media. My answer is Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner General of UNRWA – the UN Palestinian Relief Agency that employs 13,000 people in the Gaza Strip, and runs schools and social services.

Lazzarini has one of the most challenging jobs in the world, made even more difficult since the tragic events of October 7th. Currently, he is banned by Israel from visiting Gaza, and his agency is not allowed to deliver much-needed food to the North of the strip where famine looms. Israel has also accused a dozen UNRWA staff of involvement in the Hamas attacks on Israel – allegations that remain unsubstantiated. 189 of his staff have so far lost their lives in the conflict.

Yet he remains cool, calm and collected when questioned by the media about those allegations, the effectiveness of the relief operations or the plight of the Palestinians.

I have analyzed some of the interviews he has done with major international broadcasters, Al Jazeera, Sky News and BBC, over the past six months, with a view to illustrating some of the techniques he uses that make him such an excellent interviewee.

1. Rebuts unfounded premises/charges – In this Hard Talk interview on the BBC in November last year, he held firm against Stephen Sackur’s renowned inquisitorial questioning. ‘

2. Avoids words that are loaded for you – In this interview with James Bayes from Al Jazeera in December, he avoids the trap of blaming the Israeli army for war crimes but reframes the question and makes the point about the need to respect international humanitarian law.

3. Keeps to his area of expertise

In this interview with Yalda Hakim of Sky News in March, he is asked why there is no political will for a ceasefire. He does not get dragged into answering on behalf of Israel or Hamas but voices his concern about food being used as a weapon of war.

4. Redirects questions to where he wants to go

James Bayes asks him if he is angry about the plight of the Palestinians, to which he replies that he is angry about the indifference of the international community and makes the broader point about a loss of humanity.

5. Talks about the impact on people

In this interview with Al Jazeera, he focuses not on UNRWA but on the people of Gaza, relating stories of their plight and what they told him when he was able to visit them.

6. Keeps on message throughout

Throughout all these interviews with BBC, Sky News and Al Jazeera, he takes control by staying on message and delivering it clearly and compellingly.

At the end of his interview on Hard Talk, he is asked whether the Israeli offensive could lead to the mass displacement of Palestinians from their homes – similar to the Nakba of 1948. Have a listen to his answer.

Unfortunately, his fears in that interview appear to be proving correct, with more than 1.9 million Gazans currently displaced, and the offensive on the city of Rafah underway.

In this type of sit-down interview done by star presenters, you have longer to get your message across than in a short news interview. However, all of the techniques mentioned above as well as the many more I share in my coaching and media training workshops are effective and can help you become a great media communicator – just like the head of UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini

In May last year I trained the UNRWA senior management team in how to effectively talk to the media.

If you would like to be coached or attend a media workshop online or in-person, contact me for a discovery call. As a former UN, IFRC and WWF International spokeswoman and BBC correspondent, I not only give you the authentic interview experience but also advise on how to get your message across.