Media interviews take skill. There’s no doubt about it. There aren’t many people I know that say ‘I’ve got an interview with a journalist today, I can’t wait!’. Because you know that when you take part in a media interview, what you say can’t be taken back.
A journalist is there to get the information they need, through the questions they want to ask. Your job is to give them the information they need but within the boundaries of what you’re happy to share publicly. So it’s a delicate dance.
And that’s where the nerves can kick in. But a lot of those nerves can be lessened by one thing. And that’s preparation.
It sounds really obvious, and most people would say ‘of course I prepare – I know my numbers’ or ‘I know the three key messages that I want to share’. That’s great, but what if they don’t ask about numbers and what if their questions don’t easily allow you to share those three key messages. So, knowing your numbers and your key messages alone aren’t thorough preparation.
Preparation is about a whole lot more.
- It’s about understanding that when you speak to the press you are the face of your brand – when the audience sees you or reads your quotes, it’s not you they’re hearing from. It’s the company you represent. So preparation is knowing how you’d like the brand to be perceived. Because that will determine the language you use, the annecdotes you share, the personality you bring. It all reflects the business. And you need to be clear on that.
- Preparation is also about confidence and authority and both of these, I believe, come from authenticity. If you have something to hide you might overplay that by coming across as arrogant rather than confident. And if you don’t know fully what you’re talking about you certainly won’t come across as authoritative. So authenticity in what you say and how you say it, will convey that confidence and authority.
- Preparation is about understanding who you’ll be speaking to and which media outlet or outlets they represent. From this you’ll get an idea of the angle they might take in their questions and how they communicate information to the audience if you take a look back at past editions of the publication.
- If you were fully prepared, you’d also have thought about the questions that would make you uncomfortable (those killer questions that would make you want to say ‘no comment’ or ‘off the record’). We know that’s not an option, so preparation is about being ready to answer them – confidently and with authority.
- Preparation is about how you handle the interview – from what signals you give away in your body language, how you build a rapport with the journalist before and during the interview, and how you help to steer the conversation to the things that you also want to talk about as well. The journalist has an agenda for the interview, but you also have information you’d like them to share with the audience, so being able to achieve both is a win-win.
- And then there’s preparation around handling leading questions (the ‘Are you saying that…?’, or ‘’So what you saying is…’). Those ones are fun and definitely need thought on how to respond. Other things might be around how you handle speculation or rumours. So we’re talking about the more sensitive subjects – different to the killer questions, these ones are more the ones that lead you down a tunnel that the further you go into it, you have no idea how to get back out of.
If you haven’t considered all of these things, and more, then you aren’t actually fully prepared for media interviews and the consequences of that for the brand are huge.
So, if you do have interviews coming up, it’s a good idea to make sure that all of your spokespeople are professionally media trained and that they’ve really done their homework so they have the best chance of nailing interviews and getting the most positive coverage as a result.