Even the sharpest, most well-informed interviewee can turn into a rambler, spiller of secrets or testy faultfinder while conversing with a reporter. That’s why we give every client spokesperson media training: it makes them more comfortable, it makes us more comfortable, and it leads to better interviews for journalists.
But if you need to get ready for an interview and you don’t have access to professional help, put on your introspection goggles and consider these three common personas. Does one of them hit home? If so, follow our tips to put your best face forward.
Preparers review all the briefing materials we give them—notes on the interview topic and the reporter’s interests; their prior articles or broadcasts; key interview messages; and comprehensive talking points. Then they write down what they want to say. We love preparers.
If preparers have an Achilles heel, it’s expecting journalists to do an equivalent amount of homework. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Reporters typically face an ongoing cascade of deadlines, and they aren’t always as up-to-speed they’d like to be—or as preparers think they should be. But getting testy about it is a huge mistake. That kills any chance at building rapport and can easily make the interview a wasted effort.
As we advise our preparer clients, it’s best to greet a reporter’s flailing as a gift. Use all that homework you did to interview yourself. The reporter will appreciate the lifeline and you’re guaranteed to deliver your message.
Quick-on-their feet improvisers are adept at handling unexpected questions and rarely get rattled. They may think their verbal skills mean they don’t need media training. They may also believe that contemplating three bullet points from their briefing 5 minutes before the interview is preparation enough. Not so.
Improvisers typically give a lively interview, and we admire their fearlessness. But they’re also reluctant to admit when they don’t know something. Their freewheeling style can lead them to present guesses as facts without realizing they’re doing it. Plus, improvisers easily go off on unproductive or unwise tangents.
If this sounds like you, take a lesson from professional improvisers. These actors and other performers spend long hours practicing in order to seem like they’re effortlessly spinning stories off the cuff. So do the homework. Fully absorbing the interview parameters will help you focus your conversational verve on your message, rather than rambling off into irrelevant or out-of-bounds territory.
While most of us live in a messy today, the futurist lives in a blue-sky tomorrow. Futurists can be a little bit preparer and a little bit improviser, but they’re all visionary. That makes them inspiring and quotable—excellent attributes in a media source.
The downside is, the more a futurist hears excitement in their interviewer’s voice, the more likely they are to forget two media training fundamentals: it’s all on the record, and things you hope will happen soon are not the same as things that are happening or will happen.
For the always-looking-forward personality, it takes conscious effort to limit claims to what’s provable and avoid prematurely announcing moves that are still in the works. If you tend to share forecasts as if they were real-time data, talking points are your best friend. Absorb them, keep them on hand and stick to them.
And if you’re a futurist who’s also a 100 percent improviser, consider whether you’re the best person to speak to journalists. If it has to be you, don’t resent it if you get a PR minder on your interviews—it’s for your enterprise’s safety.
That caveat aside, with a little self-knowledge and practice, any of these personas can learn to give lively, accurate, on-point interviews. The reward is worth the effort: positive media coverage and a reputation as a reliable source.