I’VE been involved in thousands of interviews over the years – either asking the questions, answering the questions, or hand-holding a client through the process.
Times and comms channels may have changed, but the rules are still as applicable today as they have ever been.
Here are just a few quick tips should the media come knocking – in good or bad times!
- Look at a media interview request as an opportunity or a free plug. And even when responding to a crisis comms situation look at it as an opportunity to explain your side of the story. If you don’t, someone else will do it for you.
- Preparation is critical
- Be absolutely sure what the story is about, and why they want to interview you. I’ve had situations where I just wasn’t the right person for that story, and told them so. Remember the chauffeur who ended up on the BBC news trying to bluff his way through the interview? You will be found out. If you just don’t feel right about it, don’t do it.
- Ask who the interviewer will be. The research or reporter who contacts you won’t always know, but all interviewers are different, and have different styles and approaches. So, if you know the interviewers or have seen them in action before, you can begin to prepare and visualise the interview.
- Ask how long the interview will be. It is important to know this to appreciate how long you have to get your key messages across.
- Think about the questions you might be asked. What would you ask yourself in that situation, and plan accordingly.
- Ask if anyone else is also being interviewed. It may be someone who is giving an opposite view to yours so you might expect some hostility or challenges.
- Find out if the interview is being live or recorded – obviously a recorded interview may be heavily edited so it is important to prepare to deliver your key messages in a short, succinct piece.
- Find out where they want the interview to take place – the studio, in your place of work or outside. Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ to a certain location if you think it is not appropriate, if it is noisy, if there are too many distractions to potentially damage your interview. Think of the passing motorist who always beeps their horn at the first sight of a camera, or the football fans on Sky Sports on Transfer Deadline Day – avoid those situations.
- Prepare the key messages you would like to get across but don’t write War and Peace. You simply won’t be able to get it all across in an interview, and you will be rapidly scanning over your notes during the interview to find the relevant areas to the question. Two or three key points, some statistics to support your points, and one or two examples. Every interview should have an example or two to re-enforce what you are saying.
- Just before the interview do not be afraid to ask the interviewer what the first question will be. This helps you to feel relaxed and gives you an opportunity to get into the interview.
- Be enthusiastic. If you can’t be enthusiastic how can you expect the listener or viewer to be interested in what you have to say. We’ve all been in the car and after 30 seconds of listening to a boring interviewee we’ve turned the dial to the next station. Aim to perform at 110 per cent of your usual self – any more and you will appear fake – or look or sounds like you are on drugs. Anything less and you run the danger of turning people off.
- Forget the potentially millions of people out there watching you or listening to you – think of it as a fireside chat between you and the interviewer – you will far more relaxed!
- But don’t over-relax – concentrate. I’ve been involved in media training scenarios where the interviewee has become so comfortable with the interview process they have literally switched off and didn’t listen to or hear the question. They then realised what had happened and froze. Don’t ‘switch off’ until you are back out of the building and the interview has been done.
- Maintain eye contact with the interviewer – don’t look around, and don’t look into the camera – the result will be your eyes moving around the screen, and if nothing else, you will look extremely shifty!
- If on television, don’t wear anything which may distract the viewer, such as a name badge or security pass on a lanyard. If outside, don’t let your hair blow around in the wind.
- Don’t wear reactolite glasses. There is nothing worse than giving an interview and all of sudden you come over all Hollywood actor or worse, a Mafia gangster!
- Never, ever, lie. If you don’t know the answer to the question say you don’t know.
- Don’t get into a row with the interviewer or fellow interviewee. History is littered with these car crash interviews.
- If you are asked to wear a mic assume that it is permanently on until you are back in the car park and it’s been long removed. History is again littered with people who has forgotten they are miked up – Gordon Brown, John Major, Will Carling…
- Remember the word ‘But’ to bring an interview back around to what you want to talk about… “Some people may say that, but….”
- Don’t use jargon which anyone outside your area of expertise simply won’t understand.
- Enjoy the experience. Sometimes, interviews can be challenging because of the subject matter, or you maybe responding to a criticism, but relish it! Remember, you are the expert – not the interviewer.