How to Nail Your Next Media Interview - In 4 Easy Steps
I spent a good part of last week in Quebec City working with business leaders on taking steps to protect their brand. Part of brand protection involves saying the right things to the news media when you need to say it.
Too often when people get ready for media interviews, they scan some notes they’ve made, highlight what they think are key points in a news release or announcement, and then pronounce themselves ready to face the media. In most cases, they’re not.
There's a better way and it involves four specific steps that if virtually anyone follows, can almost guarantee an interview they'll look good and sound good doing.
Step 1 - Learn
Learn everything you can about the issue. Don’t worry about getting information into the right key messages, or being able to answer specific media questions, just get as much information into your head as possible.
You can’t really use notes during face-to-face interviews with reporters, so getting better informed before you start an interview will result in having a better chance of answering more questions you get from the media. The second reason you want to learn everything you can is because anytime you know what you’re going to say BEFORE you say it, you will say it better. That’s a key point to understand. Too many people “ahhh” and “ummm” during media interviews. That’s because they don’t know what they’re going to say next, so they fill the time with needless words and sounds to keep their conversation going. If you know what you’re going to say next, the chances are better you’ll eliminate those “filler” words and sounds.
Here’s another great tip. If you need to remember important numbers, or dates, write them by hand on a piece of paper. Writing anything by hand helps you retain the information. For most people, remembering numbers and statistics is challenging, but you’ll increase your chances of recalling the information if you write it before the interview. We learn this in school and then quickly forget it when we get into the work world.
Step 2 - Play Reporter
Keep that piece of paper in front of you and now write the questions you expect to get from the reporter.
Think like a reporter and try to anticipate the questions you’ll be asked. With a little time to think, you likely can determine the majority of questions you’ll be asked, especially the difficult ones.
Reporters want to know how your story or issue will affect the public, so think of the impact on them. Many reporters will start with a very open-ended question to get the person they’re interviewing speaking, so always start your list of questions with one like that. Questions such as “What’s your reaction?” or “What do you think about this?” are great opening questions from reporters.
Step 3 - Build Key Messages
Now that you have a list of questions, think about how you’re going to answer them.
Try to use each of those questions to get into the areas that YOU want to talk about. As an example, if a reporter asks you to explain why your Board of Directors made a specific decision, prepare one or two reasons why the decision was made and be ready to explain them quickly. Don’t get bogged down in details – just focus on the bullet points.
Remember you want to be the one leading the dance with the reporter, not following, so talk about what you want to talk about. Questions from the reporter are simply a starting point for you to get into your key messages.
Always answer the question, or at least let the reporter know you understand the question. Ignoring the question will make you look like you’re hiding something and most good reporters won’t let you get away with it. Using a bridge to get to your answer generally works quite well. Here’s a blog I wrote on bridging techniques. While we’re at it, here’s a blog I did on sound bites, because you’ll need to get one or two ready to go as part of your preparation.
Step 4 - Practice
Here’s the final step and one that most people miss. Once you have learned everything you can, figure out what questions you’ll be asked and determine how you will answer them, it’s time to put it all together and practice.
Too often, the first time people answer the questions they anticipate will be when it really counts and they’re doing the actual media interview. That makes about as much sense as a football coach designing a play for his offence to run and not practicing it before trying it in a game.
Ask somebody in your office to play reporter and get him or her to use your list to ask the questions you think you’ll get. Respond to those questions the same way you will do in the actual interview.
By the way, don’t stand in front of a mirror when you answer these questions. Some people say it’s always the best to practice in front of a mirror. That’s the worst place you can practice, because as soon as you look at yourself in the mirror you’ll start thinking about what you look like and not what you’re supposed to say. Use your phone instead. Set it on a desk and shoot video of the interview so you can watch it later. Look at your body language and ask yourself if it conveys the impression you want to leave.
One Final Thought
I know you always don’t get a chance to walk through this process before an interview. Even if you do everything right, this four-step process will take a half an hour and there will be many occasions when either you or the reporter won’t have that much time.
If you only have a few minutes, try to quickly figure out what you’ll be asked and think about how you’ll respond. Repeat your answers out loud. This will allow you to be more comfortable when you do the actual interview.
Practice won’t make you perfect, but it will make you a lot better.