Six tips for a successful media interview

Here are six quick tips for dealing with a media interview. The idea behind them is to put you – the interviewee – firmly in the driving seat. No more worries about being taken by surprise by random questions. No more feeling vulnerable to a reporter seeking to trip you up.

By the way, I don’t believe most reporters are actually seeking to trip you up or embarrass you. But they are not out to help you. They expect interviewees to be ‘on-message’ and they see their job, quite properly, as probing for weakness.

Reporters are hard-wired to challenge interviewees. It’s in their DNA. If you expect it, and plan for it, you can take much of the stress out of the encounter. You will already have reviewed where you are vulnerable, and decided if you can answer directly or if you need to bridge/pivot to your preferred message.

Here are six points to bear in mind:

  • Be clear about your business reason (strategic objective) for doing a media interview? The only reason for agreeing to an interview is because you have a message to deliver. If you don’t deliver your message clearly, you will have failed. Do not be side-tracked by questions that are unhelpful. Just listen really closely for the word, phrase or thought that will help you return to your message.
  • Define clearly and narrowly the point you want to make. No matter how complex the issue you are dealing with, you must distill it down to its essence. Better to make one point clearly than struggle to cover a range of topics.
  • Accept that the longest sound bite is about 8 seconds. Practice expressing your key message in 7 or 8 seconds. (That’s 21 to 24 words). If you insist on giving long answers, you give the reporter permission to pick and choose sections within your answer; that’s why people complain about being taken out of context.
  • Anticipate the difficult questions. Write down the questions you would least like to hear. Then ask colleagues if they can make the tough questions any tougher. Your team will know the vulnerabilities of your position far better than most reporters. Once you’ve got a list of nasty questions, you can plan a response.
  • Be conversational. Sometimes people feel they need to inflate their language to do justice to a big announcement. They use polysyllabic words and complex constructions they never use in everyday speech. Keep it simple. Smaller words and shorter sentences are always more effective in an interview. You will feel much more comfortable if you are true to yourself, and don’t try to be someone else.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your passion. Audiences pick up on emotions before they process your words. Your passion and enthusiasm is a message in its own right, and opens the door to the reception and acceptance of your message. If you love what you do, and believe in the value of your product, don’t be afraid to let it show.

“The media only report stupid or careless answers, not stupid or unfair questions.”

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