If you've ever done a media interview you know how important it is to craft talking points in advance. But what's really important is to stay on that messaging during the interview. It's very easy to go off track and before you know it, the interview is over and you didn't get the chance to work in any of your talking points. I recommend having at least 3 main talking points for each interview. Practice them until you are really comfortable, but don't try to memorize them word-for-word.
The journalist will try to control the interview. After all they are asking the questions and can set the tone. They also decide when time is up. The key to your interview success is to push back when necessary and to stay on message. If you are asked a question that is off-topic or you simply can't answer, bridge back to your own messaging in your response.
Example: A TV anchor asks you about a competitor who is in deep trouble. You were booked to talk about a new service your firm is offering. Don't feel compelled to get in to the muck about another company. Try this for an answer instead: "I can't offer an opinion on that. What I would like to share with your viewers is the exciting news our company announced today."
Example: A persistent reporter really wants an answer to a question that could have a negative impact on your company. You don't provide an answer that suits the interviewer. So, the reporter asks basically the same question in a different way a second or a third time. At this point you might reply, "I think you've asked that 3 times now. Could we move on to other important issues?"
Politicians are experts at answering the questions they wish they had been asked rather than to respond directly to the actual questions. It's tricky for business people to pull this off without appearing evasive or worse. You don't want to sidestep every question you don't like. But if you truly believe a question is inappropriate, you aren't under any obligation to answer it.
Remember who you are trying to reach each time you do a media interview. An interview is a great opportunity to attract new clients or customers; set the record straight about your company; or provide useful information to the public. You are talking to a journalist, but your audience are who really matter. They will judge not only what you say, but how you say it. If you get into a heated argument with your interviewer, that says a lot about you. If you use profanity that reflects badly on you.
Whether you work with a professional media trainer or with an in-house communications person, these are must do's before your next media interview...
- Fine tune your talking points. No jargon, run-on sentences, or politically-incorrect language.
- Practice speaking in "sound bites" for broadcast interviews.
- Learn ways to effectively bridge to your messaging.
- Practice on-camera to identify strengths and weaknesses.
- If you tend to anger easily, develop tools to help you control your temper.