Excerpted from Clive Simpkins' book: Media Appearance Secrets
Many people regard a media interview in the same light as a medieval torture chamber. With a bit of simple preparation it needn't be of course. Former British journalist and Economist editor, Walter Bagehot (pronounced badge-it) famously said, 'Do not let in daylight upon magic'. But once you do let in the light of understanding, much of the mystique and angst goes from the media engagement process.
The question most frequently directed at me when coaching in media skills is, 'What makes for a good media interviewee?' The short answer is always, 'When you're well prepared and then set out to enjoy yourself.' When you enjoy the interview, the readers, listeners or viewers will enjoy you.
There isn't some special aptitude or genetic predisposition to handling the media well. Here are a few contextualising thoughts, whether for print, radio or TV:
- Get the full name and contact phone numbers (including mobile) from the person who makes contact with you about the interview. Get a back-up name and number. I was once left sitting in the deserted reception area of a TV network, causing great anxiety to the news anchor who was expecting to interview me, because the contact person's mobile phone was off! Fortunately I made the second half of the newscast.
- Have an objective for the interview – regardless of what they might be interviewing you about. What do you want to leave behind in the mind of the reader, listener or viewer? If you know that – in one simple sentence – you can introduce thoughts or material that will help deliver on that objective. If you sit passively waiting to hit the ball back across the net, you're wasting an expensive and valuable opportunity.
- You can't ask for the questions in advance. Those days are gone.
- Don't even depend on the topic remaining the same. A breaking news story can skew the direction of your interview if the journalist feels you have the expertise to respond to the emerging issue.
- You have no right to pre-read, check or approve the print piece or the radio or TV interview if they're pre-recorded. You may offer to check material if the interviewer so desires, purely for factual and technical accuracy. Remember: you're not the print sub editor, or, in the case of electronic media, the commissioning editor.
- A poor general knowledge, even if you are a subject matter expert, is a major disadvantage, because you'll present only a very narrow spectrum of information.
- Read in advance, something of the journalist's print work, listen to the radio host or watch the TV anchor person to get a sense of their style, pace and rhythm.
- Cut non-essential clutter from your diary on the day of the interview. This will better help you focus and remain calm and resourceful.
- Former US president Richard Nixon infamously said in 1972 to then national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, 'Never forget: The press is the enemy. The Establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy.' Wrong: The media (dunno about the profs and the establishment) are your umbilical cord to your public.
- Media exposure in the right environment and editorial context is worth a lot of money. If you're not prepared and you don't leverage the time to optimum advantage, you're pouring a big and expensive opportunity down the sewer.
- Rehearse with colleagues and 'insiders' the worst-case, nightmare questions that you'd most hate to be asked in an interview. When you've gone through them in advance, they don't sound quite so ghastly when the journo or interviewer asks them.
- Be on time for the interview. If it's TV, be in sufficient time to go through make-up or you'll appear on camera sweaty or shiny and that'll make you look nervous – just like Richard Nixon.
- When the interviewer greets you, don't say 'thanks for having me'. They didn't. Your mom and dad did!
- Don't greet 'the listeners'. You're having a conversation with the interviewer. Not the masses.
- Keep your answers concise - the classic soundbite. Give headline, then sub-head and if asked, elaborate with 'body copy' detail.
- If you represent an organisation, you're the voice, the face and the image of that organisation in the interview. What you say and how you behave has a direct impact on the public perceptions and image of that organisation. So don't take things personally, stay calm, focused and be cordial.
- Keep good eye contact with the interviewer. Think into, listen into, speak into their eyes.
- Keep your vocal tone and manner warm and conversational. Speak in your normal, natural voice. No airs and graces.
- Don't say anything to anyone before, during, in commercial breaks or after the interview that you wouldn't be happy having broadcast to the nation. Microphones may be live when they shouldn't be - and remember, no bad language or off-colour humour.
- Finally, having prepared, now be prepared to have fun!