Top 7 Tips on Preparing for a Media Interview
Know the media, know the reporter, know the audience.
All news organizations have a recognizable editorial position and a presentation style that appeals to a certain audience. If you’re unfamiliar with the media outlet you are dealing with, talk to your colleagues and contacts. Ensure you understand the editorial interests and biases of the news organization, as well as some basic information about the audience it serves. Is it conservative and pro-business, with a predominantly older, established audience? Does it have a special interest in a certain kind of news story?
Also, try to gain some insight into the reporter or interviewer you are dealing with. Does he or she have a reputation for treating business leaders in a cynical light? Does he or she have an ongoing interest and track record in the subject area you are addressing? It can also be useful to examine how the reporter and/or outlet have covered your organization in the past. Were they fair and accurate? Who else did they interview? How extensive was their coverage?
Anticipate the questions
It is always a valuable exercise to sit down and make a list of the kinds of questions you are likely to be asked. Identify the most prominent lines or inquiry, as well as questions that are likely to cause you concern or embarrassment. Ensure that you can confidently and truthfully answer all the questions on your list. For tough or embarrassing questions, prepare adequate responses and hooking or bridging techniques that will allow you to shift the focus of the interview. If you have adequately prepared for a media interview, you won’t be asked any questions you haven’t already considered.
Get out of the boardroom.
As you prepare for a media interview, it’s important to remember that the ultimate audience for your message is the general public. As such, you’ll want to avoid technical language and jargon, even if the reporter is conversant with these particular terms.
You’ll also want to avoid dry, academic language. Both the reporter and their audience will lose interest in your message if they feel they are being lectured. These are essential considerations as you prepare your key messages. Ensure your language is clear, concise, and accessible. Try to develop interesting anecdotes to illustrate your points. Everyone loves snappy and colorful one-liners—even reporters.
Before every media opportunity, prepare a list of three or four key messages that you would most like to impart to the reporter and the public. It may be worthwhile to develop these key messages with colleagues who are responsible for or interest in your organization’s public affairs. Key messages should be prepared as short and punchy statements, or sound bites.
Once you have developed your key messages and committed them to memory, your goal will be to effectively communicate each of them at least three times during your interview. If you are doing a telephone interview, keep your list of key messages on the desk in front of you. Check each key message off as you deliver it until each has been effectively communicated.
Finally, prepare hooking, bridging, and flagging strategies to communicate your key messages before the interview begins.
Practice, practice, practice
If time permits, have a colleague or acquaintance pose as a reporter and lead you through a short, mock interview. Choose someone familiar with the issue at hand and can ask you difficult questions. If you are preparing for a telephone interview, have your colleague interview you over the phone.
If the exercise is taken seriously, you will identify strengths and weaknesses in your preparation. Critique your performance along with your colleague and make any necessary changes.
These may include:
- Changing your key messages;
- Devising hooking, bridging, and flagging techniques for difficult lines of questioning;
- Developing anecdotes or examples to illustrate your point;
- Developing brighter, more accessible language to communicate your key messages;
- Double-checking your facts and figures;
- Improving your delivery;
- Have a professional personal appearance and enhance the appearance of your surroundings.
The way you present yourself to a reporter should be consistent with how you want to be perceived by the world. This is true even if a print journalist is interviewing you because their story may be influenced by their personal impression of your dress and deportment.
Dress should also be appropriate for the setting. If you are the CEO of a major financial institution, you should wear business attire for most media encounters. If you’re being interviewed at the firm’s annual charity baseball tournament, however, by all means, dress for the occasion.
In any interview situation, it is essential to remain calm and collected…even if you are nervous. Below are some tips to help you convey to reporters and TV audiences that you’re in control.
- Don’t fidget with your hands. Find a comfortable position and stay there.
- Lean slightly forward in your chair and look your interviewer in the eye.
- Don’t look up (I don’t know the answer) or down (I’m lying) while answering questions.
- Don’t look at the TV camera or your image on the studio monitor.
- Use natural hand movements to emphasize your point, but don’t distract your audience with
- unnatural or exaggerated movements. Don’t point.
- Keep your face neutral while listening to questions. Don’t give away your genuine response.
- Don’t look around or swivel in your chair. Keep your body still.
- For sit-down television interviews, sit on the back of your jacket, so it does not ride up.
- Don’t be afraid to smile.
Dressing for television
If you know you will be appearing on television on a specified day, keep the following tips in mind as you’re getting dressed in the morning. Observe as many of the tips as possible during surprise TV interviews.
- Wear solid colors. Avoid checks, stripes, and plaids.
- Avoid shiny materials, as well as harsh black and white contrast.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
- Avoid sparkly or jangly jewelry (avoid for radio as well).
- Avoid short skirts, slit skirts, and low necklines.
- Take loose change out of your pockets and remove pens, wallets, cell phones or other bulky
- items from your jacket pockets.
- If you can, wear contact lenses rather than glasses.
We want you to feel prepared for your next interview. It only takes seven seconds to form an impression. It is critical to get it right. Our free e-book is available for download here, where we provide eight complete steps on how to make the best-informed decisions about why, when, and how to communicate with the media.
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