My Top 10 Media Interview Tips
A week from today we’ll be watching and reading all kinds of analysis on the US election. It will be the day after, and the long, drawn out US electoral process will finally be over. We hope.
Last week, during the campaigning, there were two clear examples to show why a person or a group of people who don’t like a particular story will say the media isn’t covering the news fairly or will say “that’s not news” and the media shouldn’t concern itself with it.
We saw the interesting exchange between Republican Newt Gringrich and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Gringrich was angry because he felt the media shouldn’t have given so much coverage to the embarrassing Trump audio tape story and should have spent more time hammering Hillary Clinton on her issues.
Then, after the FBI announced it was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s emails, the shoe was on the other foot. Clinton’s people told reporters the story wasn’t new, there wasn’t any new information for the media to report and the story wouldn’t affect the election. It was the old “Nothing to see here, move along.”
There’s an old line that starts with the words “Whose ox is being gored.” It aptly explains how people react when they have to comment about bad news. The easiest defence is to tell reporters they shouldn’t be covering the story because nobody cares about it. They’re usually wrong.
On the other hand, there are ways to handle media interviews properly. Here are my Top 10 Media Interview Tips.
Make Eye Contact
You'll be amazed how much better you look when doing a TV interview if you look at the reporter as you are giving your answers. Also try to keep your eyes on the reporter as they ask questions. It shows more confidence and people feel that if you can look a reporter in the eye and make a statement you must be telling the truth. When I do media training sessions I get participants to look at me as I ask questions and it makes a huge difference. I also get asked by clients if they should look at the reporter or into the camera during TV interviews. The answer is, almost always look at the reporter because if you look into the camera you’re looking right into somebody’s living room and it’s creepy.
Use Your Hands
During the interview use your hands to help you communicate. Your hands will give your voice rhythm and cadence. On many occasions, when you start to explain something your hands will get involved to help you communicate, so let your hands do the work. Hands can be great communication tools and it also helps to open up your body as you speak because it means you have nothing to hide.
Don't Rush Your Answer
To give yourself better presence never rush into an answer or through your answer. Take your time. There are no gold stars for answering a question quickly and in fact it can be a negative because the reporter and their editor want a nice clean edit point. They can't get that if you jump on the end of the reporter's question. In addition, most people being interviewed need to slow down when they speak. You can look more confident and in command of the situation if you back off the gas pedal. Try to emphasize each syllable and it will give you more presence when you speak.
Answer With Statements
Be careful not to start every answer with words like "Yes", "No" and "Absolutely". Work on eliminating those words and start your answer with a clear response to the question. It makes your answer stronger and the media appreciates you making a full statement. Rather than saying "Yes that's correct, we believe this is the most important...." try saying "We believe this is the most important...." Being less conversational can make your statement much stronger. Starting with a full statement also eliminates words like “Ah” and “Umm”. Don’t let your lips move before your brain is ready to go.
Know What You'll Say
You should always know what you are going to say in an interview BEFORE you say it. This can make your answers much stronger and you will have fewer stumbles. I’m amazed by the number of people who get prepared to do media interviews but never practice giving the answers in advance. If you know what you’re going to say before you say it, you’ll say it during the interview with more confidence and fewer stumbles.
Talk About What You Want To Talk About
Don't feel that you have to be on the defensive if reporters are aggressive. Remember, they wanted to speak to you, so give the answers you want, effectively talking about what you want to talk about. Reporters may not like the answer you’re giving, but it’s not your job to give them what they want. It’s your job to stay on message and answer the questions the way you want to.
Stay on Message
Once you have decided what you plan to say and say it during the interview there's no need to say more. It's really easy to say too much, resulting in the media using something you didn't want used. When people get in trouble in interviews it’s generally because they have spoken about things they weren’t planning on. Also, keep your cool. You never want to lose control of your emotions during an interview.
Drop a Great Sound Bite
Think about a short statement you can make that effectively sums up what you want to say in a clear and colourful way. Chances are this will be the clip that the media uses on radio and TV and the quote that will make its way into the newspaper. It’s critically important to understand that in most recorded interviews the reporter is only looking for a tiny portion to use. Check any TV newscast and you’ll find clips of people who’ve been interviewed lasting only a few seconds. Find a way to communicate your message across in a sound bite and you’ll move to the head of the class.
Don't Use the Reporter's Name
Never use the reporter's name in recorded interviews because the media outlet may have a different use for the interview at a later time. As an example, you could be talking to a reporter named Scott in a local interview, but if a national network wants to use a portion of the interview, they can’t use the clip where you used the reporter’s name because viewers won’t know who Scott is, unless the news anchor explains. It's acceptable to use the reporter’s name in live interviews, but even then you need to be careful.
Buy My Book or My Online Media Training Series
You knew this was leading somewhere right? These tips and other communications strategies are in my book The Honest Spin Doctor. It’s a great resource for dealing with the media. I also have an online video series called Bulletproof Your Brand that tells you everything you need to know about media relations in five videos that run just under 90 minutes in total.