Media interviews can be difficult even for those used to public and media attention -but they can be downright terrifying for those who’ve never been in the media spotlight before.
For many who’ve never interacted with the media, fear of the media usually stems from a feeling of lack of control in the process, and concern over the reporter’s motives in doing the interview. Will I be able to answer the reporter’s questions? How will I know the reporter won’t make me look bad?
Reporters, of course, understand many of their interview subjects will react this way, and good ones will do what they can to put their interviewees at ease. Reporters though have a tendency to believe people’s fears about the media are, for the most part, groundless. As a media trainer and former reporter, I know it’s not that simple. Facts often don’t speak for themselves and interview subjects can indeed look foolish, inept or worse, even if that wasn’t the reporter’s aim.
The goal of media training is to teach you how to serve both reporters’ goals and your own, truthfully, factually, and with confidence. Media training is designed first and foremost to allow interview subjects to understand how to exercise the control they often don’t even know they have over the process.
The first thing for the novice interviewee to understand is that he or she is in far greater danger from a reporter who doesn’t get it, than from a reporter who is out to get you. The vast majority of reporters want to get the story right. If they work for a mainstream news organization, there are standards they must meet and higher ups to hold them accountable to those standards. That’s not to say reporters don’t sometimes get it wrong. It means if they’re a professional, they have a stake in getting it right and value their reputations. That means you need to concentrate on telling them what they need to know to get it right. I firmly believe that it’s always in people’s best interests to engage the media rather than shun them. Here are some basic rules for media interviews for you to keep in mind:
- No Spin: Don’t lie to a reporter. Ever. It doesn’t mean you have to tell all, explain all and reveal all. It means you need to maintain your credibility at all times by making sure the veracity of what you say can be counted on. It also has the advantage of reducing the need to correct statements later.
- Preparation is key: Reporters are looking to tell a story others can relate to or at least find a connection with. Think beforehand about the main points you want to make with a reporter and how you want to get those points across. This is called messaging and it’s a vital part of any interaction with a reporter.
- Think about why you’re being interviewed: You are probably not speaking with a reporter just to provide them with raw data. More likely, you’re there to provide some kind of perspective. Concentrate then on the bigger picture regarding the issue or the event — as an expert, an observer or a participant.
- Less is more: Speaking to reporters requires getting to the bottom line as quickly, and as quotably, as you can. Deliver the supportive data, facts and backup information after you’re sure you’ve delivered your message. Try to make your message as accessible as you can to the greatest number of people (no jargon, slang, or “inside language”) and if you tell a story, make sure it’s a succinct one that makes the point you really want to make.
- Practice, practice, and practice: It takes a while to get comfortable with developing messages, reducing them to a few well-spoken statements, and staying on message through questions. The more you do it, the better you will get. No matter which reporters you speak to — trade, local, regional or national, print or broadcast — follow the same process of knowing who you are speaking to, for what reason, and determining what you want to say.
Media interviews should be a process of mutual gain. The media gets information, perspective, an interesting story or point of view, and you in turn get to reach the audience watching and listening to that segment of media. So give reporters what they’re looking for-access, good quotes and reliable information-and you’ll be rewarded with access to their audiences. Don’t let your lack of experience stop you from engaging with the media and with the public you want to reach.
Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter, Senior Hill Staffer and leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.