In business, when success comes knocking, so do the reporters. Speaking to the media is an art, and even the most seasoned executives have turned simple interviews into corporate nightmares.
The truth is there’s no such thing as a casual interview—but the best interviews are the ones that appear casual. Behind the scenes, there’s research, practice, anticipation, and a little strategy.
Have a date with a reporter? Here are five things to consider first.
- Journalists do their research…and so should you. You need context. Look at past interviews the reporter has done and get familiar with their style. What is their tone—lighthearted or serious? What is their outlet’s ‘slant’? Who is their audience? Why do they want to interview you?
- Define your key messages. You need to anticipate what you’re going to be asked so you can have an articulate answer ready. ‘Key talking points’ should be well thought out, consistent, and tied to your company’s core values. Think like a journalist and identify some short and sweet quotes that would make excellent sound bites. Don’t hijack the interview because you’re itching to spit out all your points; really listen to the questions and work in your key messages in a way that appears seamless. Not sure how to do this? ‘Bridging statements’ can help you move the interview back into territory you want to cover.
- Do an inventory of your weaknesses. What is the worst thing this reporter could ask you and how will you respond? If your company has recently undergone anything close to a crisis (or if there might be trouble ahead), you need to hire a media trainer to help you prepare for interactions with the press so you can get on the right side of the narrative.
- Practice—but don’t sound rehearsed. Back to that whole art thing. The best interviews read like a really good conversation: give and take, humour when appropriate, and the feeling that you are connecting with an authentic person; your likeability will hinge primarily on the latter. If you don’t have a media coach and you’re new to this, try to find a friend in the business who you can practice with. Rambling, lack of clarity, awkward body language—give them the green light to be ruthless.
- Think before you speak. Obvious? In theory. When nerves kick in, common sense can go out the window. Don’t comment on deals where the ink hasn’t yet dried, don’t say anything that could negatively impact your brand, and don’t assume sarcasm is going to translate to the page. It is important to note that not all journalists honour “off the record” comments. Play it safe—if you don’t want to read it in print, don’t say it.