Over the past few days, I have had the privilege of working closely with one of our clients to prepare for an on-camera interview with a major broadcast news outlet. A spokesperson with no previous on-camera experience, she was an open and attentive student of our media training program, eager to learn and put into practice our advice. When training was over and the real red light went on, she did a masterful job. She delivered her messages with a relaxed and confident air that made it appear as if she’s been doing interviews for years.
As I look back on her successful interview, it occurs to me that her effectiveness had just as much to do with the techniques and skills we teach, as with her ability to master four underlying areas that can sometimes prove difficult for even the most seasoned business professionals in a media interview. I call them the four “C”s.
Number one on the list, and perhaps the most difficult to conquer, is confidence. Without it, even the most well prepared individual can easily become flustered and forget what they know. Yes, media interviews can be daunting, but they also represent an amazing opportunity for a spokesperson to tell a story. Think of it this way. If you’ve been approached to do an interview, it’s not because you’re some random person with time on your hands. It’s because you have something to offer the reporter for his or her story. You know the topic or issue and have a perspective that is important and relevant. We repeatedly remind our clients that they are the experts in their field. It’s okay to be modest about your knowledge in most situations, and we certainly don’t encourage our clients to come across as know-it-alls in an interview. We do want our trainees to acknowledge and accept their expertise – to own it, if you will. Because once you own it, and recognize the power of your own expertise, you will convey the confidence you feel through the conviction of the messages you deliver.
There are two agendas at work in any media interview. The reporter has his or her agenda; they have in mind how the final story will appear. The spokesperson has his or her own agenda – delivering a key point or two that supports a position that is often in conflict with the reporter’s goal. So right off the bat we have an unnatural situation that is far different than a normal conversation you might have a with a friend or colleague. So unlike most interactions between people, a media interview is not a conversation. Repeat – it is not a conversation. It’s an exchange of information. That’s unnatural. In a normal conversation, if you’re asked a question, you want to be helpful and engaged, to keep the conversation going, so you provide the answer you think the person is looking for. In an interview, if the question doesn’t support the message you want to deliver, you need to find a way to get to that answer. Oftentimes, that may mean acknowledging the question, but then shifting the focus back to a message you want to deliver. That’s how you control the tone and tenor of the interview, and measure the success of an interview.
The key to any good interview is delivering a key point or two that will come through in the final story that’s reported. And the way to get those messages through is be sure to know them well ahead of the interview, and to be consistent in delivering them. Repeating key messaging can be extremely difficult for some people because they feel like they are saying the same thing over and over; again, an unnatural way of talking with someone. Once you know what you want to say, it’s often just a simple matter of thinking about and practicing different ways to make the same point. The consistency comes through in the overall point, not necessarily by repeating the same thing word for word every time.
When agendas conflict, there is the potential for an interview to become confrontational. We see it every day on the news when a reporter gets aggressive, and a spokesperson gets angry or defensive in response and what that person is saying gets lost in the sudden flood of emotion. That’s why we work with our clients to help them recognize when a line of questioning may be escalating in intensity. The goal is to know what’s happening as it happens. Doing so enables the spokesperson to control his or her reaction and maintain an even-tempered demeanor throughout the interview. Beyond visible anger, there are often more subtle indications that composure may be wavering. Body language, small facial expressions, and tone of voice can also undermine your message. A rolling of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulder or even a terse response can tip the reporter off that they’re getting under your skin.
Serving as a spokesperson is not an easy job. While there are a handful of individuals who have mastered it, even they train and retrain, getting better with each practice and real interview. Whether that practice is done with the help of professional trainers or alone in front of a mirror, these four areas are important to keep in mind when preparing for any media encounter.