How to prepare for a media interview
Even for trained professionals, media interviews can be tough. Whether being interviewed for a crisis situation involving your business, providing opinion on a major issue such as coronavirus or commenting on a positive news story, being prepared is the key to success.
Here are some top tips.
Ask for information first
Ask the journalist to be clear about the interview before you accept. What do they want out of it and what would be their line of questioning? The journalist may have another agenda unknown to you.
Ask if anyone else will be interviewed. If you know that an academic, unhappy customer or representative of a pressure group will be interviewed, you can plan for the various scenarios.
Your PR and communications lead will steer you on this. They should help prepare you on the media interview and give you a guide on what can and can’t be said.
Research the media, journalist and audience
The media’s audience will determine the language you use. For example, an interview for a local radio station will focus on local issues while a national interview will look at wider implications.
For broadcast media, also understand whether it is live or a pre-recorded interview. Be very wary of live interviews especially using mobile phones which can look clumsy if you aren’t prepared.
Visit the reporter’s social media profiles, read their previous articles and look at other similar interviews already run by this media outlet. This will give you a fuller picture of the journalist’s style and stance.
Don’t defend the indefensible
If you’ve made a mistake, apologise and simply say sorry. You can’t face journalists and try to gloss up a crisis. Admit the mistake and look proactively to future actions and timescales. Don’t just compare how great you were last year. The audience understands that mistakes can be made. Admit it and move the story on.
For TV, use proper posture. Sit up with your back arched slightly and shoulders back. Use natural hand gestures, even if gestures are off-screen. If you usually talk with your hands, not gesturing will impact how well you speak.
Keep your language simple
It’s easy to slip into professional jargon which can alienate your audience. Have one or two clear messages and stick to them. Keep referring back to them if the journalist tries to take you off track.
Try and get over the key message in simple easy-to-understand language. Assume your audience doesn’t know anything about the subject.
Avoid saying ‘no comment.’ Journalists hate it and invariably use the story anyway with someone else’s potentially damaging comments.
If the subject is a very sensitive one involving someone’s health, talk as a human. Express your best wishes and thoughts to them, their friends and family if the situation warrants it. Do this at the start of an interview.
Practice, practice, practice
However experienced you may be at giving interviews, you will still need to practice according to the specific circumstances of each interview.
If possible, practice the interview content and time your soundbites to make sure you are not sounding too long-winded but still getting across your key message. One way to keep the audience engaged is to cite examples which can help relate the particular topic in a clear and colourful way.
Interviews ‘at home’
Increasingly, the media is using new platforms to arrange interviews which can be live within minutes of being finished. If it is being recorded through products such as Zoom or Skype, think practically about what will be shown.
Consider what is in the background of the room, make sure other people in the house know what you are doing and not to come in and out, wear clothes that are appropriate and make sure the technology works ahead of the interview.
Nothing is off the record
Don’t say anything off the record. Some reporters request information off the record because of sensitive circumstances then publish the information anyway. This doesn’t mean to say that you can’t develop a trusting relationship – journalists will respect your decision. Consider everything, even post-interview banter, as on-the-record.
Monitor and learn
Sit down with other colleagues and analyse what worked and what you could do better for the next interview. Get feedback from friends and family. Log notes.
If you feel really brave, look at social media and website comments to get feedback. This can give you an early insight how well your comments have been received for you and your brand.