Hubert H. Humphrey said it best:
And that’s why, if you prepare, you can ensure that no matter what happens you’ll be able to adapt and stay on message.
An interview is an exciting media appearance opportunity to tell your story, establish credibility, or provide insight into a topic.
Like any other public speaking opportunity, interviews require a certain kind of preparation that requires you to keep specific details in mind. But at its core, an interview is just a conversation that others get to listen in on and take away some sound bites.
These tips, taken from our decades of media training experience, will help you ace an interview on camera or in person.
There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Preparation
Because many media appearances are planned weeks in advance, you have an opportunity to ensure you know the crucial details needed to make a great impression.
Before your interview takes place, have a clear understanding about the story and what your interviewer specifically wants to discuss. Most experienced reporters will not work from a specific set of questions so before recording begins, you can reach out to ask something like “I want to be prepared, is there anything specific you would like me to address during this interview?”
It also helps to understand this from the perspective of the interviewer. Learning how journalists prepare their questions will give you a better idea of what information you should find out ahead of time.
If the topic is controversial or complex, try to think ahead about some difficult questions you might get so that you can prepare responses. A media coach can help you with this piece. You may also want to consider some topics that you don’t want to discuss at all to avoid being drawn off topic.
Here are other factors that are essential to know prior:
- Where the piece will air: Knowing how the audience will experience the interview will give you a clear understanding of how to frame your messaging.
- Will it be shared across social media? Then you’ll need click-bait sound bites. You may also want to share it across your own or your company’s social media pages.
- Featured as a blog post? Make sure you share useful knowledge to make people want to read on and learn more about you and/or your business.
- Do they plan to turn the audio into a podcast? You’ll need to practice your vocal executive presence so listeners enjoy the sound of your voice and are intrigued by what you have to say.
- If you are doing a TV interview, radio appearance, or podcast interview, keep in mind that many listeners will drop in and out over the course of the segment. Feel free to repeat your main points throughout the interview so that you reach everyone.
- Details about the interviewer
- Confirm the pronunciation of their name and the outlet they are working with.
- More often than not, you’ll be speaking to a reporter who may not know the intricacies of your work, so make sure your language reflects that without being patronizing.
- Whether or not the interviewer is familiar with your work, you can make background materials (like statistics or photos) available to them before the interview.
- If the interview will be live or prerecorded
- If the interview is live, keep in mind there won’t be any editing and if you stumble over your words or forget something important, you won’t be able to go back. Rehearsing key messaging is crucial here as well as knowing to keep going even if you make a mistake.
- If the piece is prerecorded, you may have the opportunity to redo. The editing team will have a lot of control over what airs and what doesn’t, so think about the sound bites you will share and ask if they allow multiple takes.
- If there will be other guests
- If it’s just you, the spotlight is yours! Use your expertise to tell your story.
- If you are sharing the stage with other guests, be sure to ask the interviewer for their background information and how your roles will interact. For example, are you all experts on the same topic? Are you presenting conflicting opinions or two sides of the same story?
- How much time you will have
- As you plan your talking points, the amount of time you are allotted will help you determine what you can and can’t talk about.
- If you have just a few minutes, boil down your information to the most important pieces that you want your audience to remember.
- If you have some more time, you can expand on those key points to provide more background information.
- Who is likely to be in the audience or watching/listening from afar
- It’s important to know who is in your audience so you can adjust your talking points and language; our previous blog below dives into the intricacies of audience analysis and you can check out our video below.
- If you are speaking with a technical outlet about your work, it’s okay to use more complex language that may resonate better with your audience.
These questions will help you make the most of your media appearance. As you plan and prepare, this video has some more tips to look your best on camera:
Finally, be sure to arrive early for any media appearance – even if it’s remote and you don’t have to travel anywhere! Preparation is the #1 way to ensure you come across as polished and professional so take as much time as you can to do it right!
Control the Moment
It’s normal to feel nervous or anxious about an interview, especially if it’s very important to you or your company.
But in reality, an interview is just a conversation with another individual. The more relaxed and at ease you are, the more natural the conversation will be and the more professional you will appear.
But of course, that’s easier said than done. It’s important to know how to control your nerves so you can ace an interview, or any media opportunity. So try these mindset techniques to grow your confidence and resilience:
Another concept to keep in mind is that you are in control of the interview.
You were asked to make this media appearance because you are an expert in the field or can provide important insight. With that said, it’s key not to place your own value or judgment on a particular topic, especially if the issue you’re speaking on may be controversial.
If at any point you feel like your interviewer is putting words in your mouth, don’t be afraid to say so before responding in your own terms. This gives you control over the situation and helps you specify exactly what you want to say and what you want viewers to know.
Answer with Skill and Deflect with Grace
When answering questions for a reporter, it’s important to be prompt, honest, and straight to the point. Incorporate the reporter’s question into your response to create a sound bite that the reporter can use in the finished piece.
Remember, less is more. This is especially key for prerecorded/produced pieces that will get edited later.
It’s okay not to have an answer for every question you were asked, but it’s also important to be prepared with responses for those moments. This is one of the most important media training basics.
Be honest if you don’t know something you are asked. You could say something like “I don’t know, that is not my area of expertise” or “let me look into that and I’ll get back to you.”
Saying “no comment” implies that there may be more to the story or that you are hiding something. Remain calm, don’t get defensive, and do your best to return the conversation to positive dialogue. Here are some alternatives to “no comment:”
- We are studying/evaluating/investigating this and will have a response at a later time
- Instead of commenting on that, let me point out…
- That’s an interesting question, but what you should really be asking is…
- Let’s not forget the underlying problem…
If you are asked a difficult question or one you’re not prepared for, there are two techniques you can use to redirect the conversation.
- Bridging: this strategy redirects the conversation to highlight the talking points that you want to talk about. You could say something like, “What I really want to talk about is…” or “I don’t know, but I do know…”
- Flagging: this technique adds emphasis to a key point or a prepared topic of conversation. You may say “the bottom line here is…” or “the main point I want to stress is…” This creates a great sound bite for the interviewer to use later.
What’s your body language saying?
We covered nonverbal communication in more detail in a previous blog, and we know that it can help display confidence and expertise to your audience. Even in radio or podcast settings where you aren’t seen, proper body language can help you feel and sound more enthusiastic.
For interviews specifically, here are some tips you should consider:
- Smile where appropriate. Your usual relaxed face may read as unhappy on camera, so it’s important to know what a more neutral expression feels like. To figure this out, record yourself on camera and watch it back. With practice, you’ll be able to make it a habit and ensure you look good during the real thing.
- Avoid the habit of nodding your head to indicate understanding, especially if your interview is more combative and challenging you or your company’s stance — you may accidentally convey agreement with the interviewer.
- A good rule of thumb: change your facial expressions or gestures only once it is your turn to speak.
If it’s an in-studio TV interview:
- If you are seated, make sure you have good posture and are leaning slightly toward the interviewer.
- If you are standing, keep your arms at your sides. If you have a habit of fidgeting with your hands, then making a conscious effort to gesture while speaking or resting them by your side will help you avoid it. To help prevent swaying, put one foot slightly in front of the other to lock in your balance.
- Feel free to make gestures, but keep them small and directly in front of you.
- Unless instructed otherwise, be sure to speak directly to the interviewer or the guests. Maintain eye contact.
- Maintain eye contact with the camera, not your own image, at least 80% of the time.
- If making hand gestures, be conscientious of what may or may not appear in the frame.
- If you are feeling nervous, think about the stability of the ground beneath your feet. Grounding yourself can help calm your nerves, and no one can see your feet!
- Avoid repetitive motions. You will probably appear in the frame even when you aren’t speaking, so think about how the audience is perceiving you while you listen.
For more tips for on-camera body language, check out this episode of Moxie Talk:
Your turn to ask questions
Your interviewer will appreciate it if you ask them to repeat or clarify a question—so don’t be shy! Your responses steer the conversation, so if you need a few moments to ponder an answer, don’t be afraid to take them.
At the conclusion of your interview, you may want to ask when this story will air or be printed, you could also ask for the reporter to send you a link once it has been published. However, it would not be appropriate to ask to provide approval of the final product.
If it was a TV interview, whether live or prerecorded, now would be a good time to confirm the appearance of a lower third that may display on screen. Ensure that your name is spelled correctly and your title or company name appears how you want it to. You should do the same for a radio or podcast interview.
Finally, don’t forget to thank your interviewer and maintain your media appearance persona until you are sure the cameras are off. If you need to send additional follow up in the coming weeks, this article talks about how to do that with tact and respect.
It’s not easy to ace an interview on camera or in person, but preparation and media training can ensure you make a fantastic impression.
Any media opportunity is your time to shine; you’re in control of the story you want to tell and what you want your audience to hear. Come in prepared, feel confident, and you’ll be perceived as a personable, knowledgeable expert—who knows what other opportunities it can lead to!
Stay tuned for our next media training blog post where we jump into how to participate in and lead a panel discussion with power.
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