Ten tips for more successful media interviews
Having stories written about you and your product or service in the media can be a great way to increase awareness, credibility and interest among prospective customers. Many novice interviewees, however, would often rather have a root canal than sit through a media interview they’re not prepared for.
Below are ten specific tips that should help you feel more comfortable and prepared for your next media interview, increasing the chances that the resulting story is what you want it to be, and helps accelerate demand in your market.
1. Know the reporter’s angle and intended story
Never walk into an interview blind. Ask the reporter directly what his or her story angle is, what they’re trying to cover, and what they’d like to get from you. Every good reporter will give you a direct answer, which will help you prepare to address that angle specifically as well as come prepared with the messages you specifically want attached to your name in the story.
2. Know the audience
Who reads, listens to or watches this particular media outlet? What’s their perspective, what information are they typically seeking, and how would you customize your story, through the reporter, to what they need or want to hear? Translating your message through the reporter’s thesis and his or her readership is the best, simplest way to ensure your message is on target and will make sense (and have an impact) when published.
3. Know your primary messages
What are the three primary points you want to make? Are they specific and succinct? Think in terms of soundbites or quotes that you want to make sure end up in the story. Support these with statistics where possible to reinforce your primary message’s credibility and authority. Practice delivering these primary messages in a variety of ways so that you’re comfortable incorporating them into the context of several different types of questions from the reporter.
4. Address the question directly (but transition quickly if necessary via “the bridge”)
Not every question you are asked will let you immediately speak to your primary messages. But it’s important with every question, even if it’s a challenging or negative one, to address it directly and use a transition (or “bridge”) to your primary points. This ensures that the reporters feels you’re taking his or her questions seriously and not evading, but also makes sure you quickly get back “on message”.
5. Avoid industry or internal jargon
The reporter probably doesn’t understand your internal or industry jargon and acronyms very well, and if you lean on them too much you’ll only confuse the issue, which can lead to being misquoted or worse. Speak in language you know the publication’s readership or viewership will understand. Keep your messaging as simple as possible.
6. Get the main point across in the first 8-10 seconds of your answer
Most answers you give should be done in well under a minute. The longer you ramble on, the less likely the reporter is going to keep listening, stay focused or take notes. More important, whatever you want quoted needs to be addressed in the first 8-10 seconds of your comment. This is when the reporter has finished his or her question and is most attentive to how you answer. Your prepared soundbites and quotes, delivered up front, are most likely to end up in print. Use that time wisely.
7. Don’t repeat negatives
Never get yourself in a situation where you say things like “No, we do not hire underaged workers.” This is the fastest path to being misquoted (or worse, being accurately quoted with words and phrases you’re not proud of or that don’t represent your true point of view). Instead, speak to the opposite, positive side of the comment. In this case, for example, say “We only employ approved workers”, which communicates the same message in a much more positive light.
8. It’s OK to say “I don’t know” and/or “I’ll get back to you on that”
You may be an expert (that’s why you’re being interviewed!), but that doesn’t mean you know everything. The reporter doesn’t necessarily expect you to know everything either, but the more you can serve as a source of information both now and in the near-future, the more likely you’ll be approached for interviews again. Don’t feel pressured to guess or make up answers on the spot. If you don’t know the answer, say so, and promise to find an answer quickly. Then follow-up on that promise quickly, ideally before the end of that day (or whatever is most appropriate based on the complexity of the question and the reporter’s deadline).
9. Leave pregnant pauses alone
When you’re finished delivering your answer, wait patiently for the next question. Some smart reporters will intentionally wait a few extra seconds before asking another question, hoping that nervous interviewees will fill that space with more comments. The more you work quickly to fill pregnant pauses, the more likely you’ll deliver a message that isn’t crisp, isn’t your primary talking point, and isn’t going to work in your favor once published.
10. You are always on the record
I’ve heard countless horror stories about interviewees delivering a fantastic sit-down interview, only to be quoted on something delivered in the elevator ride back to the hotel lobby when they thought their small talk was off the record. Unless you have a deep, personal relationship with the reporter, assume that every interaction is on the record and free game to include in their story. Feel free to engage in small talk before and after the “formal” portion of the interview, but know that what you say there is still fair game.