Too many people approach media interviews with the wrong mindset.

They treat them as a challenge, an ordeal to get through as unscathed as possible, aiming – at best – not to ‘say anything stupid’ or simply to ‘sound good.’

All wrong.

You should see every media interview, whether it’s a quick phone call with a journalist who is up against a deadline or a live one-to-one in the BBC News 24 studios, as an opportunity to put your key messages across. Interviews are only very rarely a threat.

So how do you make the most of your opportunity? Here are some important things to keep in mind when you prepare for an interview:

  • Do a bit of research. Find out as much as you can about the journalist and the publication/TV or radio programme running the interview. It’ll help your confidence.
  • How long is it likely to last? There’s a big difference between a thirty second piece to camera and a ten minute phone interview with a print journalist.
  • If it’s TV or radio is it live or recorded? Different techniques apply to each. Whatever the case, you will need proper advice and guidance from your PR agency – perhaps even specific training – before you take on a broadcast interview.
  • But the same key rule applies to all interviews: prepare, well in advance, three key points you want to make. Then spend some time practising different ways of putting your points across.
  • When it comes to the interview, make sure you use every question as an opportunity to articulate one of your three key points. That doesn’t mean you don’t answer the question. You can do that too, briefly, but never lose sight of the fact that you have something you want to say. From your perspective, that’s the whole point about a media interview: it’s your chance to communicate your message.
  • Try and take control (but don’t be aggressive – do it gently). Answer questions in a way that lets you say what you want. Use phrases like ‘I think the point to remember here is… That’s an important question, but the real issue is… Well, let me just say…’ All these are perfectly legitimate ways of answering questions during an interview.
  • Be confident. Journalists (especially TV and radio reporters and presenters) are good at putting you on the back foot. Indeed the whole broadcast environment (lights, cameras, etc) can be intimidating. But remember: you will always know more about your subject than the person who is interviewing you. And there is nothing like correcting a factual inaccuracy in a question to give you natural authority.
  • Don’t go off your agenda. Tempting though it sometimes is, you should never venture into territory you don’t fully understand (and indeed may be the responsibility of someone better qualified than you in your organisation). It’s bound to lead to trouble. More importantly it wastes time. Stick to what you want to say and if you get time, make your points again in a different way.
  • If it’s an information gathering interview for a journalist writing a story, there’s no problem about confirming details after the event. This is where your PR agency can help you out. They’ll also be able to negotiate the thorny question of quote-checking.
  • Finally, enjoy the experience and learn from it. Review your performance. What did you get right? What could you have done better? The more interviews you do, the more confident you will be and the better you will perform.

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