Tips for Being Interviewed by the Media
Congratulations! Your PR efforts have paid off and you’ve landed an interview with a reporter. It’s important to realize that, unlike at your small business, where you call the shots, someone else will control the interview. In order to succeed, you’ll want to prepare accordingly.
Here are a few tips for talking with the media.
Days or Weeks Before the Interview
- Ask questions. Prior to the interview, find out as much as you can about its format and line of questioning. Sometimes, but not always, reporters are willing to share the questions they intend to ask. (They may even request that you provide a few.) Try to understand the scope of the story and what the news outlet really wants from you and your business. You’ll also want to determine the approximate length of the interview, something about the audience’s demographics, and whether other guests will be in attendance. If the interview is to be televised, ask what you should wear, who will do your makeup, and whether you’ll have an opportunity to display your product.
- Do some research. It’s to your benefit to know as much as possible about the interviewer and his or her employer beforehand. Read previous articles written by the reporter or watch online clips of previous interviews. Make sure you understand the publication's focus and any biases before you're in the hot seat.
- Offer to send information. Most interviewers appreciate receiving background information before the scheduled conversation. Send materials related to your company, service, and/or product line, as well as clips of prior media coverage. This way, less time is needed during the interview to establish basic details and more time can be devoted to the topic at hand.
- Have a strategy. You can’t control the interview, but with some pre-planning you can influence its direction. What are your primary points? What do you want the audience to come away with? Put together a list of key statements, including statistics and other positive information about your business. You may not be able to use all of it, but being prepared enables you to look for openings to get across the story you want to tell.
- Practice, practice, practice. Yes, you’re an expert on tax accounting, home plumbing, dog walking, etc. This doesn’t mean you can effortlessly hold forth on these topics while being recorded. Do some mock interviews — with a spouse, a trusted friend, or a professional media trainer — in which you try to anticipate questions. What’s the most negative thing you can imagine someone asking you about your business? What’s the best answer you can give to that question? Record yourself or practice your answers in front of a mirror. On TV and radio, it’s important to come across as relaxed, confident, and knowledgeable. Your body language and ability to smile while answering helps to convey that impression.
Right Before the Interview
- Spruce up the place. Frequently, reporters like to do “on scene” interviews. If the location is your place of business, make certain everything looks perfect — whether it’s in an office, on the assembly line, or in the building’s courtyard. Be sure your employees know what’s going on, in order to minimize any disruptions.
- Build rapport. When chatting with the reporter right before the interview, mention that you’ve watched his clips or read her articles. Showing an interest in the reporter’s work helps establish a connection that can translate into on-air compatibility.
- Watch what you say. Don’t tell a reporter anything you wouldn’t want to see in print or have your grandmother hear. It’s best to assume that anything you say, however casually, is “on the record” and will eventually find its way into the public arena.
During the Interview
- Relax. While focusing on the questions asked and the answers you give, keep your body language in mind. Sit comfortably. Don’t cross your arms or adopt any other defensive posture. Smile.
- Get your message across. Remember those key points you came up with? Drop them into your conversation, using a technique known as “bridging” — creating a segue from one subject to the message you want to give. After answering the reporter’s question, add something like “It’s important to remember that” or “What we should really make clear is” to convey your messages. It’s OK to repeat them in the course of the interview, too, as long as you vary your wording.
- Champion clarity. Listen to the question and, if it’s unclear, ask the interviewer to repeat it. Don’t go on talking after you’ve answered a question and made your key point. Always speak slowly and in general terms (many print or online reporters will be typing your responses as you reply); shorter answers are usually best. Avoid jargon and buzzwords that only other people in your industry will understand.
A media interview is a great opportunity to build awareness of your business. If you handle the situation well, other news outlets may contact you, too.
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.