We have a very simple philosophy about media training. It should provide a spokesperson with the tools needed to conduct effective media interviews when we’re not there to support them.

Of course, it’s our job to run interference with media on their behalf: responding to media inquiries, providing proper briefings, suggesting key messages and analyzing their interviews.

However, someday they will need to prepare for a media interview without access to communications expertise.

When that day comes, there are 3 essentials they need to know about conducting effective interviews.

#1 Key Messages

Key messages are the 20-second information nuggets that tell your story in an appealing way. They are the key points you want to communicate, the foundation of your interview.

Key messages are a way to control and focus the interview—if you know your messages, you know the agenda for the interview.

With the exception of interviews for feature pieces, most media platforms allow for only a handful of spokesperson quotes. For example, a 20-minute print interview may result in 1 to 5 of your sentences actually being included in the article.

In other words, there is more room on the cutting room floor for your answers than in the final cut. In an interview situation, you must make every word count and focus on getting your messages into the edit.

What makes an effective key message?

For one thing, media are not looking for Shakespeare. They want “quotable quotes” and “sound-bites’ to help animate and tell the story. When drafting your messages, use short, stand-alone sentences. Make them as memorable, interesting and relevant as you possibly can.

#2 Be Prepared

When you receive a media call, never jump into an interview cold. Always buy yourself some time to focus and prepare.

You don’t want the reporter to think you’re avoiding her, so always be courteous and convey accessibility.

For example, tell her “I’d love to talk to you but I can’t right now. Let me get a better understanding of what you’re looking for and we’ll be back to you before your deadline.”

Ask a couple of questions about why she wants to speak to you:

  • What is her name and what media outlet does she work for?
  • What is the purpose of the interview?
  • How much time does she need?
  • How can you reach her?
  • What is her deadline?

Depending on the answer to your final question, you may not have a lot of time to prepare. It’s a given you’ll review your key messages. Anticipate any negative questions that may come up and prepare how to answer them. If the reporter is a print journalist, search Google for previous articles she’s written to understand any biases she may have.

Finally, practice your key messages … but not too much. You don’t want to sound too rehearsed.

#3 Message Delivery

How you say things is just as important as what you say. Message delivery includes body language in media interviews and the way you answer questions.

Your goal is to communicate your key messages.

Yet a reporter will never ask you what your messages are. In fact, they will often ask you something totally unrelated to what you want to speak about. You may not know the answer to their question or be authorized to speak about the subject. You may even find yourself in a confrontational interview with a reporter.

If you’re in any of these situations, use the “ABC Technique” to take control of the interview and every question:

A: Acknowledge the question
B: Bridge
C: Communicate

When asked a question about something other than what you want to talk about, you have to answer it. The secret is to use a “bridging phrase” to bring the discussion back to your messages and your agenda.

Bridging is the art of saying what you came to say. Bridging phrases include:

  • The key thing to remember is….
  • The most important issue for us is….
  • I can tell you right now….
  • What should be understood about this is….
  • … and let me add….

Let’s say you’re asked a question about an area of your company you know nothing about. Here’s how you could respond:

“It’s not appropriate for me to talk about that because I’m the wrong person. I’d be happy to get [insert name of another spokesperson] to answer your question. I can tell you right now (and continue with your key message).

Conclusion

If you’re the spokesperson for your company, there are many other lessons you will learn in media training, including these 25 interview tips.

Nevertheless, if you understand how to construct effective messages, recognize the importance of preparing for every interview, and know how to bridge back to your messages without annoying the reporter (or the audience), you’re on your way to becoming a star.