Media interviews can be tough. Whether you are in front of the camera as the expert, or a PR pro behind it, constantly refreshing your skills makes a difference.

Posts abound on how to prep for it, how to take control, what to wear and not wear, make-up tips and how to avoid looking nervous, but some questions simply don’t get covered in detail and fresh perspectives add value.

So I asked Jeff Heisner from Bottom Line Coaching to answer a few questions. A former sports anchor for ABC15 in Phoenix, award-winning journalist and co-founder of his own media coaching business, Jeff helps business executives and entrepreneurs put their best foot forward in front of the camera. He also provides coaching for public speaking and workshops.

Q. What are your top 3-5 tips to share for creating solid message points?

A. When creating your messages remember your target audience. Think about your potential clients and what you want them to know. It’s important to find examples to help get your point across and relate to your audience.

Another important component to creating the right message is to ask yourself what will the reporter ask and how can you answer their questions while getting across your key points.

(I’d like to chime in here, too. Investing time in creating your message points before the interview can make or break how successful it is. Make sure those message points not only fit the audience, but their skill level and interests, too. While jargon might be fine for a trade publication interview, it probably isn’t suitable for a television spot or generic business radio show. You want to speak in terms the viewer, listener or reader will understand and connect with.

If it is a phone or Skype interview, I find it EXTREMELY helpful to call the client fifteen or twenty minutes beforehand, and do a run-through. It brings the message points top-of-mind and gets their mind in the right place for the interview.)

Q. What makes up the “ideal” sound-bite?

A. The ideal sound-bite should bring about some kind of emotion. It needs to be concise and on-point, and no more than 15 seconds.

(Keep in mind that message points and sound bites are different. One is what you want to say and the other is how you deliver it. Particularly when it comes to television, keep in mind that the spot can run from a mere seconds to a few minutes, and the producer needs short snippets of your interview that can be edited to fit. Therefore, you want to speak in short, concise bursts that are easy for them to work with. Long sound-bites simply result in the entire message being left out of the story. If in doubt, repeat your message point in a short version or say it in several different ways. It’s okay to be a bit repetitive.)

Q. Should the interviewee always repeat the question in their answer? Why/why not.

A. The interviewee should never repeat the question. Here’s a hypothetical example why… A politician is being interviewed and asked if they are a crook, he repeats the question “Am I a crook?” Then goes on to answer of course not giving his reasons why. A TV station’s promotion department could easily replay him saying only “Am I a crook” followed by a voice over “is he, or isn’t he details tonight at 10.” This news promo would air during primetime television to create a buzz for their story. More eyes will be on the primetime promo as opposed to the news story at 10pm and any insinuation about being a crook is not good PR.

Q. Did you wear guyliner at ABC 15? Tell us if men should wear make-up for media interviews – when/why?

A. Happy to admit I never wore guyliner. I did wear Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse foundation which I highly recommend for men doing a TV interview, especially if it is in-studio. One tip is to have a woman help you pick out the shade. She should do a much better job than any man.

(My two-cents worth again – men, make sure you wear powder, including your scalp if your hair is thinning or you have a bald spot. Nix the shine. Women, wear your evening makeup but skip the glitter. Cameras can wash you out and you want your facial features to show up.)

Q. Should we prepare for a HDTV interview differently than non-HD?

A. I don’t think you should prepare differently for HD. You want to look your best either way, but you need to be aware HD can be harsh. I remember the first week we got HD at 15. Every blemish, every freckle, and every hair follicle showed on-camera. It was an eye opener, especially for the follicly challenged.

Q. Any recommendations for how we can help reporters include a social media aspect to their story?

A. It’s never a bad idea to tweet or facebook the reporter saying great to see them and include your slant to the upcoming story.

(Make sure you’ve connected with them on social media and share the story after it hits using your own social media platforms. They need social media love – eyeballs and engagement – just as much as you do. One other thing – keep their social media needs in mind when considering images to provide them with. A great image can make a tweet or post go viral, and that might be something you can help with.)

Q. Any suggestions or guidelines on providing images to TV producers to supplement the story – do’s/dont’s?

A. Props need to be used. The more props, the better. Many TV producers won’t even consider your in-studio segment or live shot if there is nothing to show. One station in town wants everything in-studio to be as good as a Dr. Oz segment. This may be a bit unrealistic for local TV, but it needs to be interesting both in subject and visual.

(Me, again! Providing visuals to a station can make an enormous difference in landing the story and being invited to return. They want more than just a talking head, so send them any relevant photos, graphs and charts they can put on-screen, in addition to the props. It might also be helpful for their social media needs – more on that in the previous question’s response.)

Q. What is the WORST interview disaster you’ve ever had? Share the dirty details!

a. On which end, as the interviewer, interviewee, or watching a client as the media coach? Unfortunately, it happens. I can remember one time hosting ABC15 Sports Sunday we had a local radio personality on and he was great talking head. The station just got HD and they were proudly boasting they now were in HD with posters and billboards everywhere in town. Before the interview we were talking with our guest about the pitfalls of how it can sometimes be unkind. It was in this instance. He got a little nervous with all that HD talk, the sweat started and didn’t stop. You would have sworn this radio professional just ran a marathon with as much sweat was pouring from his forehead. Funny thing, he didn’t want to do much TV after that incident.

Q. When a reporter asks a question you don’t want to answer or takes the interview in the wrong direction, how do you advise clients to get control of the interview?

A. Be polite and then steer the interview back on track. There are some key phrases we teach in our training sessions that can help. The big thing is never be rude in this situation, that can really come back to bite you.

Q. When someone completely melts down on camera and their mind goes blank, ala Michael Bay at CES, how can they recover gracefully?

A. Not by walking off stage! Be prepared. It’s always important to have 3 key talking points and make sure you know those messages. If things really go bad, take a second to regroup, try to relax and then revert back those messages. It never hurts to make a tactful joke at your own expense. That can go a long way to winning over some audience members you might have otherwise lost.

Thanks, Jeff! Great stuff.

DO YOU have tips to add in, or a link to share on the topic of media interview training? Bring it on!