Why you should be yourself in a Media Interview
November 16, 2022

We were recently working with the senior management team of a big fashion retailer. When we played back one of the TV interviews to the group for feedback and recommendations, the interviewee was reasonably pleased with their messages and how they handled some of the tricky questions our trainer had thrown at them. “The techniques you gave me for ensuring that I maintain control of the interview and handle those difficult issues worked really well,” they said. “I’m just a bit concerned that I didn’t come across as very warm and human.”

Journalist assessment

Our trainer had to agree with this assessment – as did the rest of the group. So how can you come across as warm and human during a media interview and demonstrate your professional knowledge and expertise? Getting this mix right is very important. Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton, has developed what she calls the stereotype content model (SCM). Very briefly, whenever we encounter someone, our evolutionary brains want to understand whether this person has both the ability and the desire to help us. It’s not much good if they appear able to help us but are not inclined to do so because they’re not particularly warm and friendly. Similarly, it’s nice when someone seems warm and caring, but it’s not very reassuring when we realise that they can’t provide any practical help – perhaps because they don’t have the necessary knowledge or capability.

However, someone who can and is willing to help us is a pretty appealing person to work with and be led or managed by. They also come across well during media interviews. That’s why important to show this blend of competence and warmth.

  • Tone of voice and language
  • Stories and examples
  • Show/prove your authority
  • Show/prove that you’re a nice human

How to come across as friendly in an interview

One way to demonstrate this human warmth is to include this personal element in your interviews. In this case, our media training course participant from the fashion industry did a second interview in which she presented her key messages but then introduced her own experience of buying clothes online and in-store. She talked about her preferences, frustrations, and the conversations about her shopping habits with family and friends. Just as we had advised, added that natural human warmth. As well as being an expert, she was also a consumer like her audience.

Let’s take a completely different sector. We provide specialist Media Training courses for law firms. Are lawyers human? It’s a question that we often jokingly explore in our media coaching courses for lawyers. The answer is that, of course, they are.

Lawyer Interview

So, in one of our Media Training workshops, we encouraged the partner of a magic circle law firm to include alongside their comments about where the law stands on a certain issue and what regulators are increasingly asking for, their own personal reactions. They talked about how they enjoy helping clients navigate a problematic regulatory landscape and included some quotes and anecdotes from their own experiences. They then went on to talk a little bit about why they became a lawyer in the first place and what they tell trainees and junior partners at the early stages of their careers.

“I’m going to include some of this in a presentation that I’ve got to do next week,” this particular lawyer said after seeing their performance on the screen. We heartily recommend it – and it is something we include in our presentation courses for lawyers.

Finally, we came across another example of the Power of the Personal when we were working for a Fintech company last month. We looked at the problem the company is seeking to solve and helped them identify their unique selling points and deliver them clearly and concisely, backed up with examples. But it was only when we coaxed one of the co-founders into talking about their own experience of shopping, banking and managing savings and what they tell their children about these everyday activities that the interview really came alive. We saw passion and human warmth alongside knowledge and experience.

Media Training in London

As we say in our Media Training courses, it’s useful to include personal stories and testaments, but, like any message, you need to ensure that you’ve identified these stories as part of your preparation before doing the interview. This means practising telling them in a concise and entertaining way and ensuring that they are not going to lead to any negative or tricky questions from the journalist. Once you’ve done this, though, talking about your own experience will tick the human box that the journalist is always looking for and will make for a great media interview.

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