You landed a media interview — congratulations! You have the attention of a reporter whose story has the potential to be a game changer and put your startup on the map. Now don’t blow it!
Whether you’re being interviewed for an online piece, radio or broadcast, there are three P’s you need to master in order to achieve communications success: prepare, practice and perform. As a foundation to these pillars, you first need to understand that a media Interview is not a presentation, conversation or reporter “education.” A media interview is an opportunity to deliver your message to a large audience in a short amount of time and establish yourself as a credible source.
Be Newsworthy or Go Home
To do so, it’s critical to know what is and is not newsworthy. Reporters want to break hard news; get their hands on compelling facts and figures; write about timely topics that involve drama, controversy or challenge conventional thinking; or write stories that feature interesting characters and companies that are moving mountains and shifting markets. Give that to them on a silver platter with additional third-party resources that can back you up. The second you try to push a story that is overtly self-serving, common knowledge, vague or lacking validation, that reporter’s going to be running out the door. Don’t be surprised if you get passed over in the story if you can’t answer the “so what?” question.
‘The Questions Don’t Do the Damage. Only the Answers Do.”
That quote by Sam Donaldson is fair warning — the last thing you want to do is wing it on an interview. Your job is to listen closely to the questions, stick to the topic and messages, get to the point and have your sound bites ready.
As with any interview, there is potential for tough questions — and you should anticipate those in advance and be prepared with responses. Common traps that could potentially push you into a corner include “what if” scenarios and requests to speculate and generally negative statements. While you can’t control the questions, you can control how you respond. As the old adage goes, they can’t print what you don’t say.
When in doubt, or you’re not sure, use your ABC’s to control the conversation: anticipate and address questions; bridge, flag or defer to stick to your message points; and conclude on a positive point. Bridging is a critical technique that can help you move from one issue to another. By briefly answering the question asked and “bridging” to the point you want to make, you can redirect the focus back to your key messages. Some examples of this include “the most important thing is” or “to the contrary.”
Another technique is flagging, which places a priority on a specific thought or key message prior to delivering it, such as stating, “The best part about this is” or, “I think it all boils down to.” This draws attention to what you are about to say, so that the reporter knows that they’re about to hear something they need to pay attention to. If an interviewer persists with a question you can’t answer, defer them to an appropriate source. Don’t be afraid to point them to another website, organization or other information source that can get them what they need. You can’t know everything, after all.
Practice Makes Perfect
One of the best ways to practice these techniques and your messages is by doing it aloud. Reading your messages in your head is not the same as hearing them verbally. Grab a co-worker, spouse or one of your children and practice a mock interview with them. Have them ask you tough questions to make sure you’ve mastered your various refocusing techniques. If nobody’s around, record yourself on video. The goal is to be sure you’re on message and reflecting your true personal tone so the words don’t sound rehearsed.
Follow-Up is Just as Important as the Interview
Just because you had a great conversation doesn’t mean your job is done. Your follow-up is also your opportunity to correct or clarify any statement you made during the interview, if you felt you were unclear or the message was not resonanting. Be sure to ask the reporter if they have everything they need and make sure you come through on any promises for additional information. This also helps grow the relationship and shows how you’re a good resource they can trust, which means they’ll want to come back for more next time they’re looking for sources. And once you do see that amazing story pop with your name or company in the headline, be sure to reach back out and thank them for their work.
Still feeling overwhelmed? Here’s a quick list of things you should do.
- Be Prepared — Take time before the interview to think about your key messages and prepare concise talking points. Write note cards or make an outline to follow during the conversation.
- Speak Clearly — Keep your hands away from your face so that your voice is clear and not muffled. Slow down a bit to give the reporter time to capture your words.
- Be Concise — Talk in sound bites and be careful not to repeat yourself. Remember, it is even easier for people to lose attention during phone calls.
- Be Energetic — Practice pauses and voice inflections. A monotone voice can cause people to quickly lose interest.
- Be Equipped With Examples — Examples are a great way to bring your individual story to life for the reporter and viewers/listeners.
- Be Passionate — Reporters can sense how invested you are in the company, product or cause.
- Listen — Don’t just be waiting and thinking about what you want to say next. Answer the questions. Do not cut the reporter off in all your enthusiasm to answer.
- Be positive and accommodating — Answer the reporter’s question directly and honestly. If you need to reframe a question, acknowledge the original question and then offer your opinion. For example, “That’s a great question. I think what you’re getting at points to an important trend/topic that would mean a lot to your audience.”
- Breathe — Take a deep breath before the call, and throughout the call, to sound calm and self-assured. Speak from your diaphragm to get some depth to your tone.
- Smile. Yes, smile — even on phone calls! — Although your audience can’t see you, they can hear it in your voice.
- Be on time — We all know you are busy running a company or developing new products, but media should take priority if you agree to a call. Nothing can get an interview off on the wrong foot more than being late and wasting the reporter’s time.
And what you need to avoid:
- Don’t speculate.
- Don’t take the interview cold.
- Don’t adopt a negative attitude.
- Don’t memorize sentences or paragraphs verbatim.
- Don’t use technical jargon.
- Don’t feel the need to fill silence (it’s their job).
- Express your position as personal opinion.
- Don’t go “off the record.”
As long as you remember to prepare, practice and perform, you’ll be well on your way to be featured in an article that takes your company to the next level. Not sure if you’re ready? A good next step is taking our self-evaluation quiz, which will take you a minute and will give you even more detailed, personalized recommendations for marketing your business and product.