What if we told you there were some very simple steps you could take now which would immediately improve your media interviews?
Well, we have put together 12 tips which we believe can improve the performance of spokespeople.
They are, of course, no replacement for realistic media training which puts spokespeople to the test.
But they provide a snapshot of the skills and techniques which lead to better interviews and will serve as a helpful reminder for those who have previously had media training.
You can be sure the journalist will have done their homework, so shouldn’t you follow their example?
The biggest factor in media interview success is preparation and that means doing your homework.
While the reporter is researching you and your organisation, ensure you do your own background checks on them. Are they experienced in your sector? What do they typically cover? Do they have a reputation for asking tough questions? Similarly, look into the organisation they work for as that may impact the angle taken with the story.
Make sure you understand why you are being interviewed. If your organisation is at the centre of a negative story then the questioning will be tougher than one where it has been asked to contribute to a wider topic.
This homework should also involve considering the nightmare question which could be asked and planning how you would respond to it. Similarly, think of any wider issues which could be brought into the conversation.
Have a plan
Make sure you go into the interview with a plan.
This should involve being clear on what you want those watching, listening or reading your interview to do and how you want them to feel.
For broadcast interviews this plan should also include knowing the key message you want to get across and the examples and anecdotes you have to support it and bring it to life.
If you are doing a print interview, think about the headline you want to create and try to steer the interview towards that aim.
The plan needs to be more ambitious than avoiding saying the wrong thing.
It sounds obvious but if you are going to do an interview you really need to have something to say.
A spokesperson who offers something unusual, whether it is an opinion, some original insight, or a fresh angle on an existing problem is likely to get more air time and column inches.
Additionally, if the journalist struggles to find this element, they are likely to start asking questions about much wider issues than that which you set out to talk about, increasing the risk of a spokesperson losing control of an interview.
The strongest interviews are often those where the spokesperson has been prepared to go beyond what has been said in a press release or in pre-approved ‘lines to take’ and have personalised the content.
Spokespeople who are prepared to provide a personal context and share a relevant story from their life tend to really resonate with an audience.
How much of their personal story will your spokespeople share?We also find on our media training courses that when spokespeople discuss personal stories they appear more confident, fluent and natural.
The words ‘you’ and ‘I’ are really powerful in media interviews and journalists and audiences alike love this type of content.
Don’t wait for the right question to come up – it probably won’t.
Look to get to your message early in the interview – ideally in the first answer. If it is for print, you can set out at the start, before a question has been asked, the key point you want to get across.
If it is a broadcast interview, try to steer the conversation early towards the message you want to get across.
Look to keep responses clear and concise and use simple language (avoid jargon, acronyms and any words likely to see the audience reach for the dictionary).
In a broadcast interview, shorter answers, around 30-45 seconds, help to create the conversational tone spokespeople should be striving for.
Long, rambling answers can be hard for both the journalist and the audience to follow and there is a risk they may be harshly edited, misinterpreted, or abandoned altogether.
But it is a balancing act because overly short answers can lead to spokespeople appearing defensive and sounding like they have something to hide.
Bring the enthusiasm
Injecting passion, energy and enthusiasm into your voice is a key way of drawing the audience in and gaining their interest and excitement.
A dull, flat, monotone delivery, on the other hand, makes it unlikely the audience will really listen to what you have to say.
Pre-recorded interviews may offer the reassurance of spokespeople being able to correct mistakes before their interview makes it to air.
But we typically find spokespeople raise their game during live interviews, when they know they have just the one attempt to get their message across. They generally seem to come across as having more energy and passion for the subject they are discussing.
And the good news is that live interviews are typically shorter – leading to fewer questions – but result in more air time.
Lots has been written about what spokespeople should and should not wear in a media interview, and you can read our thoughts here. It is important spokespeople avoid the distractions caused by getting this wrong.
But one thing which is rarely mentioned is that just because you are doing a print interview doesn’t necessarily mean you will not be asked to appear in front of a camera.
Many newspapers now additionally produce short video interviews for their websites and social media channels.
I don’t know
Spokespeople are typically reluctant to admit that they don’t know the answer to a question.
But there is nothing wrong with saying ‘I don’t know’. It is a far better approach than getting drawn into discussing something you have limited knowledge on or providing a poorly thought-out answer which could damage your credibility.
But don’t leave your response at ‘I don’t know’ – which surrenders control of the interview and could lead to a barrage of questions – go on to tell us what you do know.
An answer along the lines of ‘I don’t know, but what I can tell you is…’ will ensure you still sound helpful and cooperative.
Journalists will ask tough questions in interviews and there will be times when spokespeople feel the pressure.
How these moments are handled has a huge bearing on the outcome of an interview.
Storming out of the interview, attacking the validity of a question, getting drawn into an argument with the reporter – or talking over them - and generally showing frustration can all shape the story and must be avoided.
It might be easier said than done, but maintaining self-control and a level head is crucial.
Don’t be afraid
Nerves are understandable and perfectly natural, but there is no need to be afraid.
Remember that you are the expert with something valuable to contribute. You will invariably know more about the subject than the journalist.
If you do make a mistake – and most spokespeople do – it is highly unlikely to be damaging or even particularly memorable.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.