How to prepare for a media interview
Media interviews are a crucial part of establishing any brand, but they are particularly important when you are the brand. It’s an opportunity for you to get your voice heard, to get your key messages across and for people to understand exactly what you are about.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should automatically jump straight in and agree to every interview that you are offered, and you should certainly never go into an interview unprepared. Google the words “car crash interview” and you get 3,800,000 results, while “excruciating interview” brings up half a million results.
A bad interview can cause serious damage to your reputation, and it’s better not to do an interview than risk going in unprepared. So how do you ensure that you’ll come out on top from any interview? We’ve put together a series of tips to ensure you are fully prepared before stepping in front of the microphone.
Find out the angle
Before agreeing to any interview, do a bit of research about the publication or outlet. Do they have a particular viewpoint or position on issues that are relevant to your message? Some interviews, particularly regular features, will take a specific format and so make sure you understand this in advance. Research the journalist and take a look at some interviews they have done in the past. Do they seem combative or sympathetic? Try to understand what approach they will be taking and prepare accordingly.
Ask for questions beforehand
If you think the interview is the right platform for you, try to speak to the journalist beforehand and ask them to send you some questions in advance so you can get an idea of what they are planning to ask you. Unless the interview is a straightforward Q&A, then the questions will no doubt end up being worded differently during the course of the conversation, but thinking about the questions in advance will help you understand what direction the journalist has in mind and can help you prepare how to get your message across effectively. As well as the questions that they send you, think what else you may be asked. Most importantly of all think of all the questions you would hate to be asked – the difficult and challenging questions that keep you awake at night. This won’t be fun, but it is crucial in making sure you are fully prepared and ready for whatever the interview throws at you.
Think about the audience
When planning an interview, there are two audiences to consider: there is the audience of the outlet itself, and there is the audience you are trying to reach. Ideally, there would be enough crossover between the two that you feel like a natural fit for the interview slot, but there is also an opportunity for you to grow your own audience. You should aim to adopt a tone of voice that is appropriate for the outlet, but ensuring your message remains true to your core audience.
Rehearse but don’t sound scripted
One example from the world of politics shows the danger of giving scripted sound-bites rather than answering in a natural way. Ed Miliband no doubt expected that the media would only use one clip of his “These strikes are wrong” answer, rather than the whole thing. In isolation, any one version of what he said sounds fine, but when you watch the whole clip, he sounds over-rehearsed and unnatural. It’s important to rehearse what you are going to say, but you have to make sure you don’t end up sounding like a broken record.
Prepare to be challenged
The famous Newsnight interview where Jeremy Paxman asked Michael Howard the same question twelve times in a row (“Did you threaten to overrule him?) is remembered by many as the ultimate example of the interviewer’s notoriously dogged styled. However, Paxman later admitted that the reason he kept pursuing the question was because the next item on the show wasn’t ready due to a guest arriving late and so his producer was telling him to fill time. Had that guest arrived late, then things may well have gone differently, but nevertheless, Howard’s reputation was seriously bruised by the encounter. Before the interview, Howard had no doubt prepared an answer to the question, but hadn’t prepared anything to say if he was then pushed further.
Expect the unexpected
Everyone remembers the video of political analyst Robert Kelly being interviewed on BBC news, only to be interrupted by first his four-year old daughter, then his one-year old son and finally his wife. The video went viral and has been watched more than 24 million times on YouTube. Fortunately, Kelly took the events in good humour, but it’s safe to say that the point he was making about the impeachment of the former President of South Korea got slightly lost in the chaos. If you are giving an interview from home (either on the phone or on Skype) make sure it’s somewhere quiet and that you won’t get interrupted.
There really is no excuse for going into a media interview unprepared. Well, unless the whole thing is sprung upon you by mistake:
Nail your upcoming media interviews, be prepared for anything a journalist can throw at you and get exactly what you want from an interview. Check out our media training, we’ll make sure you’re raring to go.
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