How to Ace Your Next Media Interview
There is a
sign that hangs in my office. It says; “I
know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not
sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” As a
reporter for more than twenty years, I interviewed countless
intelligent, articulate people who had a lot to say, but didn’t
always know how to say it. They spoke out on behalf of their companies
and organizations but frequently talked about what they wanted people
to know instead of addressing what the listener really cared about.
For example, if a reporter is assigned to cover a story on a
multi-million dollar highway project, she isn’t interested in the
technical details of the entire project, but she does want to know how
the project will affect people in the area.
having a camera pointed in your face can make even the most seasoned
spokesperson squeamishly uncomfortable. They fear being misquoted,
having their words taken out of context or being blindsided by
unexpected questions. After all, everyone knows reporters are only
interested in ratings, right? Wrong. The truth is: reporters don’t
think about ratings. That’s management’s job. Reporters think
about telling the story. They think about how to make that story as
interesting as possible so you’ll keep reading or watching.
Reporters don’t care about interviewing the brightest bulb in the
bunch. They want the person who can help them tell the story.
probably seen these people on television… the interviewee who
delivers a quick quip, interesting anecdote or important fact that
makes you stop and take notice. They appear natural, conversational,
energetic and unrehearsed. They engage you as soon as they speak. Like
an expert driver, they typically ignore the reporter’s question and
grab control of the wheel, spinning off in a different direction. What
is it they have in common? Are they part of that deep pool of
executives who have been programmed by media trainers? Perhaps.
But learning how to deliver key messages practiced in coaching
sessions doesn’t make someone a good spokesperson. In fact, more and
more executives are sounding like robotic media trained politicians
who spin through the Sunday morning talk show circuit.
The key to
your success isn’t knowing how to deliver your 1-2-3 —otherwise known as media training. The real key is learning to
connect so your words are relevant and meaningful to an audience you
typically can’t see or hear. For example, let’s say you’re a
scientist trying to explain a new storage disk that can hold more
information than ever before. It is natural for you to want to share
details of the process. So you say: “This 5.25 inch storage disk has a holographic coating that can hold a
terabyte of data.” While that may be true, it is far more
compelling to put the information into perspective by telling the
reporter what it means to their audience. If you said, “The
entire Library of Congress is about 20 terabytes so you could put all
of it on 20 disks that could fit in a shoebox”, you will help the
reporter make sense of the information for the reader.
developing key messages and preparing responses for difficult or
unwanted questions is critical, reporters want you to answer
questions, not spout messages. They want you to appear animated, not
coached. They want you to talk about your product or service, but are
turned off if you start promoting. So, how can you bridge the
gap—give them what they want, but make the most of every interview
opportunity without sounding media trained?
reporters cover stories, they ask the following three questions. 1.
Who cares? 2. Why do they care? 3. How is my reader, listener or
viewer affected? They do
not have time for volumes of information and background. They want the
bottom line—quickly! So rather than memorizing message sentences,
think about talking in concepts and prepare messages that evoke
emotion—that make people care enough to listen.
what reporters need to tell a story. Reporters want you to speak from
the heart so you reach through the screen or come off the page to make
people see what you saw, hear what you heard or feel what you felt.
This doesn’t mean you need to sob or tell a journalist everything
you know. However, when you speak, you should look for opportunities
to humanize the information so people can relate to what you’re
saying. Think about using analogies and examples to drive your
message. I recall covering a space exhibit and asking a scientist to
explain a certain technical process. Rather than spouting off data, he
told me that one-day this technology “would save the lives of our
grandchildren.” Listeners remember impressions, not facts.
be yourself. If you don’t know something, say so. Reporters will
respect your honesty. And, if you’re serious about improving your
skills or keeping your boss off the hot seat, seek media training that
focuses on standards and values. Words without principle are simply
words without meaning. Listeners will see right through them and right
Five Secrets Media Trainers Don’t Tell You
Talk To Your Grandmother: Think of the person who will read the
article or watch the broadcast as a long lost friend or grandparent.
Talk, don’t lecture. Explain, don’t read. You’ll find yourself
smiling, speaking simply and conversationally like you would if they
were in front of you.
From The Heart: Be passionate. If you’re not enthusiastic, why would
anyone else be excited about what you have to say?
Look for opportunities to personalize and humanize the
information so what you say really means something to the audience.
Don’t Assume The Reporter Gets It: No matter how often the
reporter covers your subject, you are the expert. Don’t assume they
know what you know. What is clear to you might not be clear to them so
it is up to you to make sure they understand what you’re talking
Don’t Wing It: It doesn’t matter how many interviews you’ve
done. Executives who “wing it” are setting themselves up to fail.
The better you prepare, the easier it will be to stay focused, give
meaning to your words and handle interruptions or questions. This
means you need to practice outloud.
The Yellow Brick Road: Do not ramble. Say what
you have to say as simply as possible and stop! It is not your
responsibility to fill the silence. Too much information and too many
details create confusion, misunderstanding and can result in
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