Whether you’re trying to promote a product, establish credibility or provide thought leadership, media interviews are vital opportunities for communicating and connecting with key audiences. To ensure you’re properly prepared for media opportunities that come your way, follow these three steps as a guide for successfully navigating any interview.
1. Understand the outlet, the reporter and the audience.
Preparation begins with background knowledge. Take time to learn about the reporter and where his/her interests lie. This can easily be accomplished by browsing through the reporter’s social media profile and reading a couple of his/her most recent articles. For example, does the reporter write investigative pieces or does he/she enjoy writing how-to articles? Figuring this out ahead of time will help you anticipate questions and understand the reporter’s writing or interviewing style.
It’s essential to dedicate time to research the outlet and its audience as well. By providing information that is valuable and relevant to the outlet’s audience, your quotes or sound bites are more likely to be published. During an interview with a trade magazine, for example, provide more advanced details and specific advice since the audience likely has a deeper, working knowledge of your industry. For an interview with a general business outlet like Forbes or Entrepreneur, provide information that relates on a broader level to all career-minded professionals.
Keep in mind, a reporter is the messenger to help your messages reach the target audience. And oftentimes, a reporter’s success is measured by how many clicks, likes and shares the story receives. Following this approach will not only bode well for enhancing your visibility, but reporters will also appreciate your value and may come back to you as a regular source for their stories.
2. Know what you want to say and the audience takeaway.
Once you understand the journalist, the outlet and its audience, it’s time to consider what key messages you want to communicate. This can be as simple as writing a bulleted list of what you want to say and reviewing it right before the interview.
It’s easy to get nervous or off-track and give long, jumbled answers. When you overload the reporter with too much information, messages are more likely to be misinterpreted or eliminated from the story. Also, some skilled journalists will purposefully take long pauses during the interview to entice you to say more than you may want to reveal. Don’t feel pressured to fill awkward silences with more information. Think carefully about what you want to say, make your point and stop.
Consider these questions when preparing your key messages: What is my goal for this interview? What are the main points I want people to take away about me or my company? What value or new information can I provide to the audience? What stories or examples illustrate my main points?
At the end of the day, the reporter controls the content of the article, and it’s strongly discouraged to suggest to a reporter how to write an article or news segment. Focusing on key messages and practical audience takeaways, however, allows you maintain some control. After all, a reporter can’t publish a quote you didn’t say.
3. Prepare and verify facts and statistics needed to support the story.
One of the most novice blunders during an interview is not having the verifiable proof or support to back up statements. If you’re going to cite a fact or a statistic, make it a priority to have the specific study or report as a reference point. Giving concrete statistics and facts demonstrates your credibility and expertise.
If memorizing numbers isn’t your strong suit and you’re not on camera, have a cheat sheet handy with key statistics and their sources, but be sure to keep it concise. That way it’s easy to reference and doesn’t distract you during the conversation.
If the interview is not during a live broadcast and you’re unsure of a fact or statistic, it’s safe to say, “I can’t recall the exact number/source/statistic, and I can’t speculate. May I send a follow-up email with the correct information?” If you’re not confident of a fact or number, don’t say it. This is a surefire way to ensure the reporter doesn’t quote you repeating incorrect facts or numbers.
No matter the interview topic or outlet medium, preparation is essential for success. Even the most credible and experienced spokesperson can be caught off guard. If you think your interview skills need more intensive help, it might be worthwhile to seek media training from a trusted public relations professional. Remember, you can’t directly control what a reporter publishes, but you can control your preparation and message delivery.