Whether you’re doing a media interview yourself or preparing a colleague or client for one, it’s easy to forget some of the basic rules. Very often we find our media training courses that people are, quite understandably, so focused on their messages and the aspects of the interview that are most important to them that they forget about some of the basic media interview techniques and hacks that will help them to gain more control and make the interview work for them.
Here are five basic mistakes that even those from PR consultancies and Comms teams often make during media interviews.
- Not thinking about the audience
Knowing the outlet is essential and not many people would confuse an interview for Newsnight with Newsround, for instance. However, when they’re preparing for interviews people often fail to really put themselves in the shoes of those that they’re speaking to.
Who are they? How do they feel about you? What do they know already? These are key questions that, along with what you want your readers, listeners or viewers to know and do, are essential considerations before any media interview.
As well as dictating your key messages the audience will also determine the language you use and the examples you give. An acronym or phrase might be very familiar to you but will the people that you’re talking to understand it. Even then, will it really resonate with them? As we say in our media coaching sessions: “It’s good to use language that people understand but it’s better to use language they use.”
We provide a lot of media training for lawyers and very often they forget that the general audience isn’t interested in the intricacies of the law, they just want to know what this regulation or piece of legislation means to them and what they need to do about it.
- Giving a first answer that’s too short
Your first answer is your opportunity to set out your stall and take control of the interview – so use it.
With a press interview especially, regard this interview as something similar to a presentation. Take the initiative and keep going until you’re interrupted. Answers in broadcast interviews have to be shorter but again there’s an opportunity to get on the front foot and set the course of the interview. Many broadcast presenters are even less well briefed than their print colleagues and so they’re often very pleased for an interviewee to tell what the story is.
Either way, just make sure that whatever you say is relevant to the audience and the interview subject.
- Coming to your example or story too late
Here’s one of our tips for media interviews: it’s never too early to come to an example. Very often at the start of our media training workshops people don’t include any examples or case studies.
Your first answer can begin with “For instance…” or “Just imagine…” The word “imagine” includes the word “image”, of course and painting pictures is essential in any media interview. It’s worth remembering as well when you’re telling a story the interviewer is likely to shut up because we love to hear stories. Telling a story right away is a great boost for your confidence too. Remembering statistics or a specific part of a regulation or technical detail can be a challenge during an interview situation, but everyone can tell a story.
Once you’ve told your story or given your example you can then make your point. Think story > point. You might even book end your great example with point > story > point. Either way, do it early.
- Forgetting about those left field question
We’ve heard it 100 times before, especially during a broadcast interview with a politician, industry leader or charity boss. “While I’ve got you here…” the interviewer will say towards the end of the interview and they’ll throw in something that is topical and roughly relevant to the interviewee’s responsibility but is certainly not a core element of the interview.
Very often PR professionals and Comms departments are great at identifying key messages and the areas which could prove to be a threat. What they’re not always so good at is thinking of what else might be “moving” on the story. One of our favourite examples is vacuum cleaner magnate James Dyson who was on the Today programme to talk about a new apprenticeship scheme. After they’d covered it briefly presenter Justin Webb then asked Dyson about Brexit. It’s an inevitable question but one that Dyson should have steered clear of. Instead he held forth, talking about Germany’s bullying.
Within a matter of minutes his comments were on the front page of The Daily Telegraph online edition and were being picked up by other outlets. As for his apprenticeship scheme? It hardly got a look in.
So, as well as the positives and the negatives associated with your key messages, think about what else the interviewer might throw at you.
- Not being aware of when the interview has finished.
Our media trainer/journalists have great stories that they tell in our media training courses about interviewees who have been caught out because they thought the interview was over.
Is that mic still on? Just assume that it is. The reporter has put away their notebook but are they still reporting? You bet they are. We all know the story of Gordon Brown talking about a “bigoted woman” but journalistic folklore is full of scoops that came about because an interviewee assumed that the interview was over, the journalist was suddenly their friend and that nothing they said at this point would be reported.
Many of the PR professionals and Comms teams’ people that we work closely with on our media training courses have similar stories. The fact is that it’s not over until it’s over – and that means that the journalist has left the building or you’re in the taxi on your way back from the studio.
Even the most experienced media professional, working under time constraints and being forced to do more with less can make a simple mistake. Check out our refresher media training courses for more on courses to stay proficient in the media, where the media is concerned safety first and check and check again is the best advice.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg…
To find out how we can assist you with developing a strong interview technique, contact us here or give us a call on (0)800 1777 080