Media interview training – successful phone interviews with journalists
July 21, 2020

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The chances of a journalist interviewing you on the phone were already increasing rapidly before coronavirus hit. Now it’s even more likely, as we point out to people in our media interview training.

Although they can get more from a face to face interview, journalists are very happy to interview people on the phone – it’s quick and easy and means that they can file more quickly. A recent survey by the National Council for the Training of Journalists showed that a remarkable 99 per cent of journalists were “confident” or “very confident” about information that they gather by phone. The question is – are you, as the interviewee, equally confident when you’re being interviewed by a journalist over the phone?

Based on our media interview training ere are our top tips for doing interviews with journalists by phone – and when we say “by phone” they all apply to media interviews by Zoom, Skype, Teams and other technology.

1. media interview training tip: know who you’re talking to

As we say in our media training courses – it’s all about the audience. Whether you’re doing a press interview by phone or face-to-face, or indeed any other medium, it’s essential to know who the report is being written for.

This is even more important during a phone interview in many ways because it’s more difficult to gauge the interest of the journalist when you can’t see their facial expressions and body language. If your comments are irrelevant to the audience there is a chance that the journalist will lead you onto something that is more pertinent. But the other dangerous as you ramble on, they’ll simply check their emails or make a mental note not to include anything you’ve said in the final article.

So, focus on the audience – who are they? What do they know already? How do they feel about you? What will they find useful and helpful? What do you want them to know and feel? Knowing your audience allows you to concentrate on this.

2. Add extra energy and emphasis to your delivery

The telephone, like any piece of communications technology deadens your voice. So, you’ll have to compensate for this. Put extra emphasis behind keywords and phrases. Speak slowly but direct the natural nervous energy you might feel when talking to a journalist away from speed and towards that extra emphasis and enthusiasm. As we advise when people are doing TV or radio interviews, you should always aim for more variation, more “light and shade”. This will make you easier to listen to and convince the journalist that you really are passionate about the subject matter of the interview.

Standing up will help here.  As we explain in our media interview training, this also means that you’re less likely to become too relaxed. One of the risks of doing a telephone press interview compared to a TV or radio interview is that you forget that you’re being interviewed. Many journalists are very good at encouraging people to relax and chat away. That question about the weather or sport can encourage the interviewee to think that they’re having a cosy little natter or talking to a friend. The danger is that when their guard is down they say something untoward. So standing up and means that you’re literally and figuratively on your toes.

3. Go into a quiet space or private office

We make the point in our media interview training that trying to do a media interview when you know that colleagues are listening and you’re conscious of your voice travelling across the office is doubly difficult. There is also the danger that you will be distracted by a colleague. So find a private meeting room and ideally have a colleague from your comms team or PR agency sit with you. Most journalists are very comfortable with this. The benefit for you is that psychologically it’s two against one and there is also someone on hand to pick up any errors or offer to add extra information when needed.

4. Have some brief notes in front of you

We’re often asked in our media training courses if you’re allowed to have notes during a telephone press interview the answer is emphatically “yes”. However, you need to ensure that their brief and concise. You don’t want to be rustling through pages and pages looking for a key message or important statistic.

Have a sheet of A4 in front of you with your key messages and examples to back them up as well as a number of important statistics. You can also have lines to take on a couple of difficult issues that you’ve identified just in case the journalist introduces them. Don’t forget that this is reactive – you shouldn’t mention these things unless the journalist raises them.

Another frequent question in media coaching sessions is what if I don’t know the answer to a question. During a press interview by phone, you can always promise to come back to the journalist with any extra information. We particularly recommend after a telephone press interview that you email on any key points and important statistics or financial details. This will increase the chances of the journalist getting them down correctly.

5. Limit the amount of time that you’re on the phone

The danger is that if you’re talking to a journalist beyond 15 or 20 minutes for what is supposed to be a brief quote and an article, you’ll drift into a different subject area or finally say something that you didn’t mean to say because the journalist has asked you about it for the fifth time. You can be polite but take charge – explain that you’ve only got 10 or 15 minutes but you’ll be delighted to help them during that time.

People are often surprised in our media training courses when we explain that interviews with the press on the phone can be among the riskiest. After all, in a live broadcast interview you’re in control of what you say, and the audience hears you say it.

However, follow this media interview training advice and you’ll greatly increase the chances of doing a press interview by phone well.

Chat to Communicate Media

Our media training courses are realistic, bespoke to your needs, quick to turn around and cost effective.

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