A strong editorial interview piece mixes together background information, the editor’s own perceptions and the resulting quotes culled from a live interview. What turns a powerful read into just an okay read is often the result of two things: not great interview questions, and even worse responses. If you have ever had to interview anybody, you know how hard it can be to ask the right questions that maybe, just maybe, will blast open the mine to reveal the translucent sparkle of fascinating verbal gems.
The perhaps worst offender is the “tell me about yourself,” or the “how did you come to start company X.” As Danielle LaPorte explains, “If you watch people get asked this question, you can see them sigh heavily before they attempt to sift through the salient highlights of their entire life. What the interviewee wants to say is, “Are you kidding? I’m 40 years old, how’d I get here? Read my bio.” Instead, if they’re polite, they’ll regurge the key moments that earned them their authority. Either way, it’s painful.”
Media training – a fancy way of simply saying – media practice – is the art of learning how, no matter how terrible the question, to respond in a way that keeps your message the priority. Having conducted and given a fair amount of interviews in the past several years, I wanted to expand on how the interviewee can also take steps to ensure that the outcome of the interview is one both parties are proud of:
Media Training 101
1. First, clear your mind – 5-10 minutes before your interview take some time to be still. Turn off your phone, shut down your laptop and just sit. Think about the interview, who it’s with, what you want to say and how you want to feel when you say it. Review your notes, tune into your inner Boss and get centered.
2. Treat every interview like it’s “The Big One” – no matter what your dream interview is (tea with Anna Wintour, couch time with Oprah), each interview is a dream opportunity. Someone is interested enough in what you do to want to talk about it with you and tell other people. That’s a big deal. You don’t have to accept every opportunity that comes your way (make sure the outlet is a fit for your brand and demographic), but once you have, give it all you’ve got.
3 . Break the ice – you may be nervous, but so might be the person interviewing you. After all, you’re the big star! Begin things with a big enthusiastic smile/handshake/first paragraph. Take a moment to praise a recent article they wrote, send a sincere compliment or ask their opinion on something.
4. Off the record is not on the table – it can be tempting to relax into treating the interview like being out with the girls. Many journalists will get a bit chummy as a tactic to unearth the dirt you would normally only reveal on a third glass of wine. But this isn’t chit chat. It’s a professional interview, and I guarantee that what will end up staring back at you in full-on bold pull-quote will be the one thing you never thought would make into the final piece. Personality? Yes. Passion? All you got. Perspective? Bring it.. Putting on your husband’s deodorant by accident and telling your interviewer that is why you smell like a pine forest? Not this time.
5. Get comfortable with your key points – One of the things PR folks are great at is helping to synthesize multiple aspects of a person or brand into nice sound-bites. They cannot however, bring your personality to the party. If you have PR help great, have them craft some key messages and then think about how might comfortably say them. If you are flying solo – write down 3-5 bullet points that you want anyone who reads the article to know about you and your business. Each time the interviewer asks a question, look for opportunities to tie what you are saying into your key messages. For practice, read a Q&AA interview with a competitor or inspiration and imagine yourself answering the question.Have friends ask seemingly random questions and practice gracefully leading the conversation back to your brand.
6. Nobody likes a robot – Don’t hold so fast to your key messages that you just end up sounding awkward. if the interview goes in a different direction and you feel up for and excited by the new direction, give it a bit of attention. Sometimes the most interesting answers come from unexpected questions. Be willing to answer the call. And then, gently move things back into the realm what you came to do.
7. This is not a game show – your interviewer is not looking for one-word answers. Maybe it’s a poorly phrased question. So what. Use it as an opportunity to elegantly communicate one of your key points.
8. Pause. To Think – Many of us ramble when nervous. We talk around and over the answer we want until we, in the process, figure out exactly how we feel or what we think about the question. Instead, just stop. pause. and think. It won’t take your brain very long to go through the above steps, and the result will be way less umm, and uhhh, and well, and much more succinct. And powerful.
9. Say no (thank you) – If an journalist asks you a question and you are uncomfortable with answering (asking you to speculate for example), let them know you aren’t comfortable and won’t comment. Moving on.
10. Don’t ask to review the story – remember that boss you had who was a total micro-manager and had to review everything? And would give you a ton of (usually bad) unsolicited feedback and basically made you feel like she had no faith in your capabilities? Yeah. Don’t do that to the person with control over the publish button.
Finally, consider investing in a media training program through a PR agency, or even taking a free webinar on presentation skills. The better prepared we are for media opportunities, the harder those opportunities will work for us once published.