It can seem overwhelming and stressful the first few times you talk to a journalist, so it can help to have a strategy in place for the big day, write Kathryn Van Kuyk & Anthony Caruana, co-founders of Media-Wize.
You’ve just secured an interview with a target journalist and media outlet. Bravo! You’re moving from excitement to the realisation that you need to get prepared. Your performance as a spokesperson is pivotal to ensuring the story that comes out is a success. You may feel the weight of pressure on your shoulders to get the message across and get it right.
So what makes for a successful media interview?
These seven tips will help you nail it.
1. Anticipate the questions you might be asked by the reporter
If you worked with a PR professional to secure the interview, make sure they show you exactly what was sent to the journalist. The themes of the pitch or media release are a great guide to the messages that you need to deliver verbally and also to anticipate the likely questions the journalist might ask you. If the journalist has responded to something put out about your business, then they’re looking for you to verbalise that so they can quote you and delve further.
Write down a list of likely questions you might be asked and practice your responses aloud. Ask a friend or colleague to ask you the questions and practice responding. It should be a conversation and flow organically – you don’t want to come across as scripted. It should be natural and in plain English. If you must use some industry jargon then make sure you explain it. Not all journalists are subject matter experts so anticipate that you need to help them understand.
Rehearsing in advance will help you to reduce the cognitive load and make sure you’ve mastered responses to the easy questions.
2. Practice your elevator pitch
In our media training sessions the number one question that most spokespeople struggle with, regardless of whether they are from a huge business or a small business, is the most obvious question a journalist will ask – “Who are you and what do you do?”
Practice your elevator pitch impactfully and have it down to 30 seconds. Remember to tailor it to the media outlet and the story you’re talking to. Focus on why it’s relevant to their readers.
The next question that has most spokespeople floundering is, “What makes you special or different?” Again, be ready to succinctly and confidently answer but never embellish or make claims you cannot substantiate.
3. Write down three key messages you want to make sure you get across in the interview
This is your opportunity to get across the three most important messages you want their readers to know about your business.
Remember, not all journalists will know the magic questions to elicit the best responses from you, so help lead them there. Don’t wait for the perfect question to arrive to give your answer, otherwise the interview will likely end and you’ll feel you didn’t get to talk about what you wanted.
A great technique to use to do this is to ‘build a bridge’. This is where you succinctly answer the question and then add on something like, “Yes that’s correct, but you know what is really interesting is …” or, “What we’re finding working with x is …”
4. If you don’t want it reported, don’t say it
Too often spokespeople lament that the journalist wrote something they didn’t want, but the problem is they actually said it. Remember the golden rule, if you don’t want to see it published, then simply don’t say it.
This is why practice makes perfect, so you don’t inadvertently step on a linguistic landmine or end up saying things you don’t really want to be talking about. The interview starts when the journalist arrives. Unless it is explicitly said, nothing is ‘off the record’ – even banter before the interview.
5. Don’t ask the reporter to let you check their copy before they publish
Journalists report what you tell them. As the subject of an interview, you don’t get to review what they report. While you can control what you say, you can’t control how they will use it in a story.
This isn’t advertising, where you control the final product. Your job is to be a confident and capable spokesperson who can deliver a message and, even better, tell an engaging story.
6. Be enthusiastic and engaging
People resonate with stories. As a spokesperson your job is to tell compelling, interesting, insightful and topical stories about you and your business. When you talk to a journalist, you want to come across as positive, passionate and genuinely excited about what you do. That energy is infectious.
A fictitious example of this is Billy Crudup’s interview as Cory in Morning Wars season 2. Cory is the CEO of the TV network launching a new streaming service and he literally bounces out on one of his network’s shows to promote it. The journalist starts off by asking him, “Why now?” and Cory responds, “because now is when I live.” The message is succinct and delivered with so much energy that you immediately laugh and are hooked to hear his next response.
7. Build a relationship for the future
Any chance to communicate with a journalist is an opportunity to build a relationship for the future. Not everything you talk about in the interview might be relevant for the story the journalist is writing today, but it might give them an idea for a future story you can also comment on.
At a minimum, the journalist knows who you are and more about your business which may lead to more opportunities if you are insightful and helpful. Many journalists work across multiple publications and they may turn up at an even bigger media outlet in the future and still remember you.
Most people underestimate how difficult media interviews can be and the high cognitive load you’re under. This is why practicing in a safe environment is valuable. Consider getting experts to help you anticipate likely questions, coach and improve your performance and optimise your messaging for maximum impact and success.
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