So, you’ve been invited to participate in a media interview. Congratulations! Your message may soon reach hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people. That’s great for you and your organization, but it may also be nerve-wracking. Even the most experienced interviewees can always improve.
To help you become a fearless interviewee, here are ten dos and don’ts from our team of experts on preparing for an interview and answering questions from reporters:
- Anticipate questions in advance and prepare.
- Always deliver your message, regardless of the question.
- Keep your target audience in mind when delivering your message.
- Have an anecdote to share.
- Be prepared to answer the question you REALLY HOPE isn’t asked.
- Say anything “off the record”
- Ramble – Be short and to the point.
- Use industry jargon. Use the language of the reader/viewer.
- Lose your temper or argue with a reporter.
- Be afraid of silence.
Anticipate questions in advance and prepare.
Knowing what to expect can help you stay calm, especially if you’re not a natural on camera or speaking with strangers. The game of questions and answers is complex. Having an idea of the direction the interviewer will take your conversation can help you plan out your responses accordingly. This kind of effort also works for any personal interactions.
Maintaining composure through any surprises or challenges during interview sessions (e.g., technical difficulties) is easier if you are prepared. During these situations; just relax and continue answering questions as you’ve prepared (or even pause the interview) until external distractions are resolved.
Always deliver your message, regardless of the question.
So many times, people get derailed by their interviewer’s questions. It happens all the time: a reporter asks about something that isn’t really relevant to your story, and you answer it anyway because you think it’s the polite or appropriate thing to do. But that throws off the delivery of your key message. And distracts the viewers who would rather hear about what really matters—your business, campaign, updates on a crisis, or whatever else is at stake.
Keep your target audience in mind when delivering your message.
When you’re preparing for a media interview, it’s important to keep your target audience front and center in your mind. Pretend that the people who are interviewing you represent your target audience, so make sure that when delivering your message, they come first!
Get to know your target audience. What are their interests and needs; their questions; their concerns; their hot buttons; any biases they may have; as well as demographics (i.e., age group) and psychographics (i.e., personality traits). This one decision – who is my audience – will help increase engagement with viewers/listeners by making them feel like they’re being spoken to directly.
Have an anecdote to share.
One of the most powerful ways to make a great impression during an interview is to share an anecdote about your experience or message. The more granular you can make the story, the better. Don’t just tell me about the sky, tell me about the colors you see, the shape of the clouds, and the placement of the sun on the horizon.
Well-executed storytelling will help you grab your audience’s attention and engage them in what you have to say about yourself and/or your field of expertise. It’ll also give them something to remember you by after the interview has ended, which can lead to more opportunities down the road!
Be prepared to answer the question you REALLY HOPE isn’t asked.
The fastest way to become a fearless interviewee is to prepare your own tough questions and practice your response beforehand. That way, when the time comes for the phone call with a reporter or the cameras and lights, your nerves won’t take away from what really matters—giving the best possible information about yourself, your organization, or your situation.
Say anything “off the record”
You can always request that a reporter leave something out of their story, but once you’ve said something on camera or to them on the phone—whether pertaining to your business or not—you can’t take it back if it turns out it makes the piece more interesting. Our advice? If you don’t want it on the record – don’t say it – at all. Nothing is “off the record”.
Don’t ramble – be short and to the point.
A short but succinct answer delivered confidently will always be better than rambling on and on. If there are times when you don’t know an answer, simply say so! Don’t try to make up an answer because that will only come across as dishonest or insincere – just say “I don’t know the answer at this time but I’d be happy to follow up with you after this interview.” If you aren’t sure what to say, you can always go back to your key messages and deliver them with your target audience in mind.
Don’t use industry jargon. Use the language of the reader/viewer.
The language of the reader or viewer is the most important thing to remember. Don’t include industry terminology or acronyms that no one outside your immediate circle would understand. As with any type of communication, if you want your message to be understood, it needs to be written at an appropriate level of complexity for the intended audience.
Don’t lose your temper or argue with a reporter.
In our media environment, your credibility can be undermined by your expressions. It does not help your ability to be heard by your target audience if you lose your temper, get emotional, defensive, or angry with a reporter, either on or off-camera.
Keep your cool if you are pressed for an answer you don’t have immediately at hand. If you find yourself getting frustrated by having to answer questions that are being asked, remember it’s a part of the journalistic process, and not a personal attack from the reporter. If you have done your homework and prepared for the hard questions, you are less likely to lose your cool.
Don’t be afraid of silence.
It’s okay to take a beat between answering questions and thinking about what you want to say, especially if it’s an important point or something new that hasn’t been discussed yet. Reporters will often use our natural discomfort with silence to see if they can lead you into filling the silence with the one thing you hope you don’t say out loud. Don’t fall for it. Just smile and wait for the next question.
Custom Media Relations Training Services
Remember, the media can be a powerful tool for you and your business. With proper preparation and training, your interviews can garner positive attention for you and your organization.
Looking to hone your interview and media relations skills? Our PR firm near San Francisco is ready to help you gain experience and confidence when talking to the press through our one-on-one or team coaching and training, media relations, crisis communications, and message development services. Contact us today to get started.