How do you feel about radio and television interviews?
Most people tend to have mixed emotions.
During our media training courses, we find delegates understand the huge exposure a broadcast interview can create.
But these interviews, particularly live broadcast ones, can feel intimidating.
What happens if you forget your key talking points, are asked challenging questions or struggle to effectively communicate your story?
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If it is a live interview, you only have one chance to get it right.
So, how can you overcome those concerns, nail that next television or radio interview and ensure viewers and listeners remember you for the right reasons?
Step 1: Different types of broadcast interviews
Before we get into how best to prepare, it is crucial to stress broadcast interviews are not just about TV and radio appearances.
There is more to it than that. There are TV and radio studio, down-the-line, doorstep, sofa, Zoom or Teams, outside broadcast, sound bite, live, pre-record, TV green screen and podcast interviews.
All these variations have subtle nuances. And spokespeople are often more comfortable in some variations than others.
Make sure you are clear on what formats you will face. You can learn more about the different broadcasting formats in this blog.
Step 2: Don't wing it
Good preparation is at the heart of every successful broadcast interview.
Spend time in advance ensuring you know the message you want to get across.
You should also anticipate difficult questions - they are asked in virtually every interview.
Do your research. Make sure you have done a bit of research on the journalist you will be speaking to and the stories they tend to focus on.
It is crucial to know whether your interviewer has a reputation for asking difficult questions, having a combative style or taking a political slant.
But don't overprepare. Trying to memorise a 10-page briefing document will do little for pre-interview nerves. And you won't be able to recall your talking points when the pressure is on.
Just a little bit of preparation can make a big difference. We believe preparation should take around 20 minutes to half an hour.
Here are a few basic tips to remember:
- If you are in a studio, always assume microphones and cameras are on. Many spokespeople have fallen victim to a 'hot-mic'.
- Lose the distractions. Remove loose change from your pockets. Don't wear narrow stripes, checks and patterns on TV because they can cause a strobing effect. Shiny suits should also be avoided. Bald, like me? Use a little powder on your head.
- Warm up your voice. It might feel weird, but reading aloud a children’s book before going on air is a good way of doing this. Use it to vary tone and practice using pauses for emphasis.
- Drink water and make sure you have some to hand.
- Consider the interview location. Optics are crucial and impact how the audience perceives you. Make sure nothing in the background contradicts what you want to say.
- Be interesting. If you are going to do an interview, you must have something to say. A spokesperson who offers an unusual opinion, original insight or fresh angle on an existing problem is likely to get more air time.
- Speak clearly and concisely. In a broadcast interview, shorter answers, around 30-45 seconds, help create the conversational tone spokespeople should strive for.
- Injecting passion, energy and enthusiasm into your voice is vital for drawing the audience in and gaining their interest and excitement. A dull, flat, monotone delivery makes it unlikely the audience will listen to what you have to say.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms - they will confuse the audience.
- Opt for a live interview if given the choice. We find spokespeople raise their game during live radio and television appearances. They also take less time than pre-recorded ones, yet typically result in more air time.
- Have a rehearsal. Ask a colleague to put you through your paces with a mock interview and practice how you would answer potentially tricky questions. Record yourself on a smartphone discussing a few talking points.
- Remember, nerves are normal. But there are steps you can take to help you overcome interview anxiety and ensure you effectively communicate.
Step 3: Make sure your key message is memorable
Being prepared involves considering the message you want to get across.
Key message or key messages? Advice varies, and you'll sometimes hear people talk about having a few key talking points prepared - often three key messages.
But during our media training courses, we stress that three is not the magic number.
Why? Because people won't remember two or three things. We encourage spokespeople to establish just one key message when they prepare for broadcast interviews.
And even then, you need to ensure the message is memorable and resonates. How do you do that?
Firstly, you need to make sure you get to it quickly. Time is in short supply. A radio interview could be around two minutes. So, don't wait to be asked - take control.
And don't be afraid to repeat it.
Repetition will help the audience remember what you want to say.
Then it is about telling stories. Stories, examples and personal anecdotes bring messages to life, build connections, add personality and create emotion.
We often quote Maya Angelou when helping our clients prepare for broadcast interviews. She famously said: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."
The best stories are those that are personal to the spokesperson. Tell the viewers and listeners something surprising, that will make them angry or fearful, or something heart-warming.
Step 4: Interview questions
Let's talk about difficult interview questions.
One of the main fears people have about interviews, particularly live broadcast ones, is being asked challenging questions.
Spokespeople worry they won't know how to answer the questions. Or they will end up saying something they quickly regret.
It's the job of the interviewer to ask difficult questions. They are a feature of virtually every interview.
And there are lots of different types. Some invite speculation (dangerous). Personal questions seem to be a particular hazard for many spokespeople. And the 'while you are here' question at the end can often generate the information the audience remembers.
So, what are you going to do?
If you watch or listen to politicians, you'll notice they often try to evade and dodge difficult questions.
It is a flawed tactic that leaves spokespeople looking evasive, slippery and cowardly. And that refusal to answer often becomes the main talking point and focus of the interview for the audience.
So, how should you respond to complex questions?
Well, it is crucial to stress you can often anticipate difficult questions. And prepare how you would respond.
If your company has been in the news or criticised on social media recently, that could be brought into the conversation. If the CEO’s pay or bonus attracted controversy in the past, then that too is likely to become a line of questioning, particularly if they are giving the interview. Maybe there has been some focus on your gender pay gap - expect questions.
The more difficult question could also be based on broader issues. The cost-of-living crisis, the implications of Brexit and the environment are three current issues journalists might probe.
In the interview itself, use the bridging technique.
It helps spokespeople control the conversation and steer it away from difficult questions to what they want to discuss. And when it is used well, the audience won’t even notice.
The spokesperson needs to simply answer or briefly acknowledge the question and then use a bridging phrase to steer the conversation to safer ground.
Here are a few bridging phrases to help you prepare. But remember, the key to good bridging is for spokespeople to develop their own words and phrases which they feel comfortable with and that work for them.
Step 5: Composure
Sometimes it can feel like difficult and complex questions keep coming.
You might feel the interview has become a bit hostile.
When this happens - and it is rare - you must maintain your cool.
Don't criticise the journalist, get drawn into an argument or storm off. This will only succeed in propelling the interview to a wider audience, and the subsequent coverage will not be positive.
Television viewers and radio listeners will be more sympathetic if you keep calm.
It is worth stressing again the importance of researching the reporter you will be speaking to - some have reputations for being provocative.
Step 6: Body language
A good media training course helps spokespeople get their body language right for broadcast appearances.
And it is worth reiterating some of that advice and tips.
Why? Viewers judge a person in the first 30 seconds of watching a programme. And body language is a crucial factor in making a positive impression.
Maintaining eye contact with the reporter throughout the interview is vital – it illustrates trust and credibility. Repeatedly looking away may make you come across as being untrustworthy and will detract from your company's story.
Smiling will help make you look confident but should be avoided if you are on TV because something has gone badly wrong.
Avoid slouching in the chair, and keep your feet on the ground.
If you tend to use gestures when talking, use them to emphasise key talking points. But avoid them becoming a distraction for viewers.
It is also important to avoid sitting with your arms folded – it looks defensive – and fidgeting with your hands and glasses can be a distraction.
Finally, a nodding head suggests you agree with what the reporter is saying and should be avoided unless appropriate.
What about radio? That's just about voice, isn't it? Well, more radio stations now have cameras in their studios. And the footage is used on social media. So, follow the same body language tips.
Step 7: Check the tech
Many broadcast interviews continue to happen remotely using technology like Zoom and Teams.
So, you must have a good internet connection and have the login details to hand.
Check nothing in your background could distract from your key points.
If it is happening at home, make sure you can't be interrupted by family members or pets.
Once the interview is underway, maintain good eye contact. There is a temptation with these interviews to look at the person on your screen.
But that looks like you are avoiding eye contact on television.
Make eye contact with your webcam and look right down the lens to create the impression of eye contact.
That can feel unnatural, so practice is vital. Regularly breaking that eye contact and looking away can make you seem shifty or uncomfortable.
Step 8: Maximise your audience
Your work doesn't end when your stop speaking to the journalist.
Promote the story on your social media channels.
Many outlets share clips and sound bites of interviews on social media. Sharing with your network will help more people see your story and raise your profile.
Step 9: Media training
The best way to prepare for a media interview is through a media training course. Our current working journalist tutors have worked with the top broadcasting organisations.
They are ideally placed to ensure you communicate your company's story with clarity and confidence.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
Click here to find out more about our media training.