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Media Training: High-stakes interviews

  July 5, 2024

When your company's image or your reputation has been badly damaged, you may have no way out except to sit for a high-stakes interview.

President Biden will be in that hot seat when he does his first network interview post presidential debate.  He will be judged not just on what he says, but how he says it.  Non-verbal communications will count too. Every viewer can judge for himself.

If you ever find yourself doing a high-stakes interview, you may feel like the whole world is judging you.  Regardless of how large or small the audience is, to you, this could be a make or break assignment.  So how do you prepare?

  • Bring in the brightest people on your team to get their input on talking points.  Make sure it's a diverse group. 
  • When the talking points are crafted into sound bites for TV interviews, they need to sound like you.  If they read well, but don't sound right, start over.
  • Take part in mock interviews, on-camera.  The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be during the actual interview.  But, beware of being too rehearsed.  The idea is to sound conversational but not like you have memorized your responses by rote.  
  • Consider bringing in an outside media trainer.  Your colleagues' opinions matter naturally, but they may not feel like they can be brutally honest with you.  The media trainer should be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  
  • Once you have your messaging down, critique your practice interviews on non-verbal elements: eye-contact, head movement, gestures, posture, clothing, and makeup.  It all matters.  
  • Choose a media outlet and journalist you believe will be fair.  Someone on your prep team should review past hardball interviews the journalist has conducted.  Did he give the interviewee a chance to fully answer questions,  or was he more interested in "gotcha" moments?
  • Be fully rested before the interview.  
  • Eat light.
  • Have someone you trust check your makeup and clothing before air.  If you look too pale, too made up or sweaty--fix it before cameras roll. 
  • Before the interview begins, ask a production person where you should look.  
  • Ask for water in case you need it.  You obviously don't want to be grabbing for the water glass repeatedly during an interview.  It makes you look nervous.  But if your throat is scratchy and it's impacting  how you sound, take a sip.  The best idea is to hydrate before the interview so you don't get woozy under the hot studio lights.  

There is a lot to lose with this type of interview.  But when you are in a crisis, doing nothing is not a better option.  You could begin to address the public's concerns on social media platforms.  If the tide starts to turn, prepare for an interview, but hold.  If pressure continues to mount, you'll be ready for a media interview.  

Once the interview airs, your communications team should monitor social media and traditional media for public reaction.  No one wins back trust with a single interview.  But if you managed to stay on message it's a very good step.  Other interviews should follow across various platforms.  

When a business or personal crisis hits words alone, no matter how well spoken, will not be enough.  You need to assure the public you are taking action to correct the situation and to make sure it won't happen again.  

It's common for large firms in high-risk industries to have crisis communications training.  Small business owners can benefit as well.  Gaming out worst-case scenarios is invaluable if/when a real crisis hits. 

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