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Surviving your first media interview: our five top tips

February 6 2019

Pciture showing a woman about to be interviewed on camera.

Telling your story to a journalist can be daunting, even for a seasoned interviewee. Whether it’s the full-on TV studio experience, speaking on the radio or chatting to a print journalist in the comfort of your own office, the fear of messing up can make your knees knock.

Carrying some nerves into an interview is not necessarily a bad thing; it means you care and a bit of adrenaline can help you think more quickly on your feet.

The good news is, if you are being interviewed about yourself, your business, or your area of expertise, then you’ve already won half the battle because you know what you are talking about.

Everything else is just presenting yourself in the right way, and, depending on the circumstances of the interview, just keeping an eye out for trip hazards.

I should add, as a former journalist used to being treated with suspicion, the default setting of a journalist isn’t to try and catch you out and make you look silly.

An evasive politician might get a hard time when they can’t explain a policy, but if you’re being interviewed to help boost your organisation, or because you can offer an insight into a particular issue, then you don’t necessarily need to treat the journalist like an incoming missile.

With that in mind, here are five ways you can improve your chances of acing a media interview.

Be prepared

Whether you have only a few hours or a few weeks to get ready for an interview, there’s always something you can do. You should know who is interviewing you, what it is for, where it will be broadcast or printed, and therefore who the audience is, and what the format of the interview will be, including whether other people will be interviewed alongside you.

You’ll also ideally know what the questions are likely to cover, and the scope of the journalist’s interest in you. Don’t be shy to ask the journalist or producer, whoever is coordinating the interview, in advance for as much information as you need.

If you do have a bit more time, you can research previous interviews by the same reporter or publication, or on the same topic, to see what sort of thing to expect.

Also be aware of what else is in the news at the moment. There may be something else you are asked to comment on if it falls within your area of expertise.

Practice

If you freeze when someone puts a camera or mic in front of you, you don’t want the first time to be the actual interview. Even speaking to a journalist and seeing they are making notes might make you forget what you wanted to say.

Practice as much as you can in the time you have.

Have someone ask you questions and get used to hearing yourself answer out loud. Record yourself if you can, so you can tell if you’re rattling out answers too quickly, which is common.

If you roughly know what you are going to be asked and have the time, you can rehearse your answers to the point that you feel comfortable with the content and can concentrate more on your presentation.

Key messages

It’s really important to go into any interview, especially one where you are promoting yourself or your organisation, with a short list of crucial answers that you want to get in. Good interviewees will be able to shoehorn these in, even if they are not asked the directly corresponding question, though sometimes this can come across like a politician redirect, “Great question, but what I really think we should focus on is….”!

One of your key messages could be your website, so people can find out more information (for broadcast interviews, rather than trip up over “double you double you double you dot”, you can just say, for example,  payasyoupr.co.uk), while others may be key stats from a survey you’ve done, or the main selling-points of your newly launched product.

Knowing the messages inside out will make it easier to spot opportunities to get them in. Also take the opportunity usually presented at the end of an interview to add in any more information you want to share.

How you look

If your interview is in a TV studio, you also have to think about your physical appearance as well as what you are going to say. It’s not about trying to appear attractive on camera, but thinking about the effect of the studio lighting and cameras on how you look.

It’s generally a good idea to wear dark colours, avoid clothing with patterns and fussy bits, and keep distractions like jewellery and accessories to a minimum.

Look at yourself in a mirror sitting down, not just standing up, as clothes can suddenly become quite unflattering once you’re seated, and this will only distract viewers from where you want their focus to be.

Be mindful of body language; a common mistake borne out of being eager to appear compliant is for an interviewee to nod along to a question that they fundamentally disagree with. To the viewer, they look like they are agreeing with what is being asked with a continuous head nod.

If you know you gesture a lot with your hands, try and remain fairly still, maintain an open and positive stance with the interviewer, try not to let expressions of horror or shock slip in, and try and remain generally calm. Talk to the interviewer, not the camera or other people in the studio, and let them finish the question before jumping in.

You don’t want to go into an interview worrying about all of these things though, so preparation is again key to feeling more relaxed. If you’re not sure how you come across, ask someone you trust to provide honest and constructive feedback.

Don’t trip at the final hurdle

Is there such a thing as off the record?

You’ve been chatting to a journalist for a good hour and feel like you’ve struck up a great rapport. They ask you a question about something you know you shouldn’t really talk about, but you just can’t help yourself. You say, “Well off the record….” and then spend the rest of the week panicking about what off the record means and if the information will be made public.

If you work with journalists a lot, over time you will form professional relationships, maybe even friendships, with an element of trust and the issue of things being on or off the record will be easier to navigate. I think a safe way of working, at least to begin with, is to just stick to saying things that you would be happy to be made public.

It ain’t over til it’s over

With the stress of being interviewed, you might have a sudden urge to unleash a string of expletives once it’s over. But you will have seen examples of this happening when it isn’t really over, when a mic’s still switched on or the camera hasn’t moved yet. The safest thing to do is keep schtum until you’re well and truly clear!

By Hannah Upton

Next steps

Pay as you PR helps representatives of small businesses and charities to feel confident about speaking to journalists, as well as speaking in public generally. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.