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Tips for Media Interviews

Adapted from Tero's MORE IMPACT participant manual

One of the greatest misconceptions about the media is that they are dominated by hostile, antagonistic reporters whose main objective is to make you, your company and your industry look bad.

At the root of this viewpoint is the misunderstanding of who the media's audience really is.

When a reporter asks questions of you, he or she is doing it on behalf of the real audience; their readership, listenership or viewership. Since the reporter's first responsibility is to produce a newsworthy story that is of interest to his or her audience, your task is to present your story in an interesting way.

With a variety of interviewing techniques and years of intensive training available to him or her, the reporter will use whatever methods are necessary to get the newsworthy story - regardless of how you look.

An often overlooked truth in press interviews is that the reporter, in collecting a public interest story, is often asking questions that generally reflect the opinions of the general public.

This is excellent news for you. Because of the large population the media reaches, these are the very people who you can influence to increase and improve your communication and image with the general public. The media is a key conduit to the general public. People who hear about an issue often look to the media for the "real story". The media is an ambassador for your story - for better or for worse.

As a result, it is important for professionals in every industry to learn how to tell their stories effectively to the media. This requires more than skill in the industry you work in, but also skill in the art of effective communication.

The impression you wish to make is one of confidence and credibility. Unfortunately, frightened by the overwhelming experience of the media interview, many individuals come across as nervous, agitated and suspicious.

By learning the rules of the media, you can learn to communicate your story effectively and truthfully with no embarrassment or later apologies necessary.

Follow these guidelines during your interview and you'll be well on your way to a successful media interview.

Choose Your Attitude

Be confident and recognize your own competence while at the same time recognize that the reporter is skilled in the art of asking controversial and provocative questions to elicit an interesting story.

Prepare and Practice

A media interview is no place for an impromptu presentation. Prepare carefully. Anticipate the most likely questions, research the facts and plan effective responses.

Prepare an Agenda

Media interviews go better when you prepare your own agenda. Prepare three brief, easy to understand points numbered in their order of importance. Plan to stick to your agenda.

Start with Your Most Important Point

The effects of primacy and recency are not only relevant to every presentation you make, they are absolutely critical to your media interview. People will tend to remember best what they heard first and what they heard last. While it may make chronological sense to begin your statement with the background and facts that support your main point, and then conclude with your main premise, the audience will not remember your most important message that way.

While the effects of primacy and recency also suggest that your final comments are best remembered, practically speaking, many reporters are on tight time deadlines, have limited space available in publications or have limited air time for your story. By saving your most important point for last, you risk having your main message lost on the editing room floor.

State the most important points first then explain your response as necessary.

Look for Opportunities to Make Your Points Fully and Clearly

When drilled by a series of direct questions, many people become flustered and respond with incomplete or overly brief answers. While an interviewee is cautioned not to be overly wordy or evasive in their responses, questions should be answered fully so that main points are repeated and amplified whenever possible.

Never Fight with Them

Always remember who has the power in a media interview. It's not you. The reporter is the one who is writing the story and the publication or broadcast will reflect their perspective. The reporter may use whatever techniques and methods they feel are necessary to elicit a newsworthy story and it may seem to involve antagonizing you. See the techniques for what they really are - deliberate methods to get interesting responses - not attempts to offend you.

Beware of Offensive Words and Inaccurate Statements

If a question contains offensive words, never repeat them, even to deny them. The reporter will never quote themselves but they will quote you. The moment you say a word, it becomes quotable. Be aware that microphones are always on.

Be Truthful

Even if the truth is embarrassing or difficult to talk about, be honest. No one likes to admit mistakes but telling the truth is still always the best option. While the press and the public can be cruel with your disclosure of bad news, the truth will still go a long way in establishing your long-term credibility. What the public does not seem to tolerate is dishonesty.

How much of the truth do you tell? As much as you are asked for. Never more. Be concise, be brief, be truthful.

Talk from the Public's Perspective

While challenging, it is important to see the issue you are presenting from the viewpoint of the audience (the general public), not your company or industry. That is the viewpoint they will be listening from.

There Is No Such Thing as "Off The Record"

If you don't want to be quoted, don't say it! Never speak "off the record" either in phone or in person. Although your name may not be attached to "off the record" comments, the comments themselves can still be published.

Preparation Protocol

Choose your attire carefully. Does it communicate the professional image you want to communicate? Use engaged eye contact and open body language. Shake hands before beginning and in closing, and take some interest in the reporter interested in you!

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