Preparing for a Media Interview: Ten Tips to Get Ready
It’s important to be well-prepared for a media interview so you can convey your key message and represent yourself and your organization or business well. Some people might get nervous or feel like their old “test anxiety” from school is surging back when they are getting ready for a media interview. Others may be cocky or over-confident and think they don’t need to prepare at all (spoiler alert – this is not the way to approach a media interview). You want to do your best, so get ready for a successful media interview with these ten tips.
Research the media outlet and the reporter. Look at the website for the media outlet. If it’s a television station or radio station, watch or listen to a few stories to get a feel for them. If it’s a newspaper or online media outlet that publishes stories, read a few stories. Obviously, if you are a coach giving an interview about your team, it would help you the most probably to look at sports stories. If you are a business owner talking about your business for a standard profile they always run, look at the business section and previous profiles. If you are a nonprofit or association leader, use the search function on the media outlet website to see if there are stories involving other organizations similar to yours.
It’s especially important to review stories by the reporter who will interview you, Check to see if the reporter has social media accounts and look at what types of things the reporter typically posts (approach not in a stalker way, but in a “let met get to know this person and how they approach their work” kind of way). Note what types of questions the reporter typically asks and the stories that seem to interest the reporter the most.
Get specifics on the interview. Confirm the date, time and location for the interview with the reporter. Will the interview be live or recorded? This matters because the stakes are higher when an interview is live. If you flub an answer and want to take a second pass at answering a question you can do that if the interview is pre-recorded.
It’s very important to know what the story will be about, and what angle the reporter is taking. Who else will be interviewed? Will it be someone you know? Someone you oppose? Will you be on-camera or having photos taken? Is it s talk show where you will need to be a guest for a set period of time and engage in lively banter, or a 10 minute stand up interview outdoors? The details matter as they influence how you will prepare, what you will wear, and what talking points you review.
Don’t think you can wing it. Many people think that because they are an “expert” they don’t need to prepare for an interview or they can “wing it.” This is not a good idea. Even if you know your topic inside and out, you should still prepare before an interview. You can be a great expert, but if you give long-winded responses, you may not be happy with the short segment the reporter opts to use.
A little practice might help you get your talking points in order so you can be succinct and convey your key message. Metaphors are important for radio because they help listeners visualize the point, so think ahead about how to illustrate a tough concept with words if you are doing a radio interview.
Know your talking points. Given you know the topic for the interview, you should be able to write down 1-3 core messages that you want to relay to the audience that will watch the story. It’s important to keep these talking points simple and clear. You should avoid jargon and what you say should be understandable to a lay person who knows nothing about the topic.
Remember, you are the expert. That’s why you were asked to be interviewed. Do not just memorize your 1-3 points and then repeat one of them verbatim every time a question is asked, especially if this doesn’t really answer the question. The ideal response to a question is one where you work in the talking point while you are answering the question.
Stay in the right mindset. Media interviews are successful when subjects are clear, concise, and interesting. This happens if you practice, are confident with the topic, and have your head in the right space when you do the interview.
Practice before the interview. Delivering great quotes is good for you and for the reporter. Reporters love good sound bytes. Action words, descriptive metaphors, statistics, and emotion all can make for great sound bytes. Draft some sample questions and rehearse how you will respond to each question. The best way to rehearse is with another person who can pose the questions to you, and then for you to respond aloud. Friends can be very forgiving. Time yourself if needed to see if you are pithy enough in your answers.
Practice how to deal with a “pregnant pause” – if you have finished answering a question, wait for the next question patiently, rather than continuing to talk to fill the silence. Sometimes people make mistakes or talk too long when they insert additional information during a pregnant pause.
If you are concerned about a hostile question, plan a bridging strategy. You never want to repeat negative comments back in a response. So if asked something that takes a negative tack, use a bridging phrase like “That’s an interesting question, but the real point to consider is….” or “We find the most important issue is…” or “Here’s the real problem…” or “Let me emphasize that….” or “With this in mind….”
Conquer your nerves. If you are truly nervous, it may help to rehearse with a friend or colleague, or to hire a media relations coach (like me) to help you get ready. It helps if you can get at the reasons why you are nervous and address them. We find clients are nervous about a media interview because: they’ve never done an interview before, they don’t understand how the media works or how journalists think (it’s not as scary as you think), they are worried about being mis-quoted, they fear they will get something wrong, or they worry they won’t present themselves or what they represent well. All of these things can be addressed through education, training and practice with a public relations professional.
For some people, visualization is helpful. Try rehearsing your talking points and responses to possible questions in front of a mirror. Put on the clothes you plan to wear for the interview. Practice with a friend or media coach. Remind yourself why you are being interviewed. You are the expert, the spokesperson, and the right person for this interview.
Occasionally people are nervous about an interview because they are in a bad situation – perhaps something tragic happened to them and they are the subject of unwanted media interest, or they have a complex prior history and want to advocate for something good now, but they’re worried their past will damage their credibility now. Perhaps their organization or company made a mistake and now they need to answer to the public and others for it and the stakes are high. My advice is if you are in a difficult situation, seek out the help of an experienced public relations professional who can help you prepare for the interview.
Avoid being overly self-promotional. It is not the reporter’s job to do an “ad” about your business or organization. It is the reporter’s job to create a story on a topic and you were asked likely asked to be interviewed not for your organization to be featured, but because you have expertise to share about the topic at hand. You should avoid being overly self-promotional. Even so , it is often ok to wear a shirt, pin, or name tag from your business, nonprofit organization or trade association.
Consider the optics if the interview is taking place in your home or business. Ahead of time is when you should tidy up and get ready to show your best to the world.
Plan what you will wear and how you will style yourself. You will need to pay more attention to your body language and how you look if you are doing an on-camera interview or having photos taken. As a general rule, avoid loud or busy prints. Lean more conservative in fashion if in doubt (unless of course, your brand is to be way out there). Focus on being neat and tidy. Avoid logos and sayings on clothing that don’t relate to the topic at hand. If makeup is offered to you for television, plan to accept in our current era of high definition television.
Make plans to arrive a little early. Make sure you know the location and figure out how you will get there. Set an alarm to remind you what time to leave. Plan to arrive a little early. The last thing you want to do is show up flustered and late.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven