• Julia Loughlin

How to prepare for a media interview

I’ve advised a lot of clients over the years about how to prepare for a media interview. But it wasn’t until last week when sat in the hot seat myself for a business podcast, that I fully appreciated what they go through.

It’s relatively easy to impassively instruct a client to ‘say X’ to ‘look like this’, ‘come across in this way’, as though it’s as simple as following a recipe.

But in the moment of truth, when the microphone and cameras are in front of you and you don’t have your instructions at hand, it’s completely understandable to feel a bit nervous, a bit imperfect, and not entirely in control.

So, as someone who feels your pain, I’m going to lay out for you some tips about how to prepare for your next (or first) media interview.

1. Breathe and remind yourself why you’re doing this.

Firstly, congratulations on securing a media interview! This is a fantastic accomplishment. To have got this far you must have something worth talking about, and an audience who wants to hear about it. So first thing’s first, rest assured that you deserve to be in this moment.

Now, remind yourself why you want this interview i.e. what the objective is. Are you raising awareness about a particular cause? Are you seeking to position yourself or your business as the go-to advisor in a particular area? Are you hoping to change attitudes or behaviour about a particular issue?

Know the why, and you’re halfway there.

2. Write out your key messages and keep them nearby.

Key messages are the perennial chestnut of PR. If you’ve had any dealings with a PR person before, you will be familiar with the concept of ‘key messages’. If not, allow me to explain: they’re simply the key points of information you want your audience to retain after hearing/reading/seeing the media coverage.

They are concise. Each key message is a sentence that you can say in about 10-15 seconds.

There are a few different models you can apply to forming key messages, but unless your announcing a new government policy or facing a corporate issue or crisis, I think this structure is quite a reliable one for most scenarios:

· What? - What is the basic information you want people to know?

· So what? - Why should people care?

· Now what? - What can the audience do with this information?

For instance:

What: Echomakers is a strategic PR and marketing consultancy for small and medium-sized businesses.

So what? Business owners have so much to gain from so little of the right strategic PR and marketing advice but the typical agency structure is often cost-prohibitive. We provide consulting and mentoring to help them articulate what their brand stands for and to help share that story with the people who matter – their target markets.

Now what? You can check out our services, gain practical tips and advice from our blog and hear inspirational success stories from our podcast, all at www.echomakers.com.au

3. Talking points

Now, don’t be confused. Talking points and key messages are different things. Key messages are what we addressed above – the key points you want your audience to retain. Now, there are only 3 of them! What else are you going to talk about for a half an hour interview? This is where talking points come into play.

First, ask the producer or the journalist ahead of time for a list of the questions they’re planning to ask. They often won’t give you this information but what they might do to placate you is give you a sense of the topics the journalist would like to cover.

Plus, if this interview is off the back of a media release or a pitch email you sent, you should have a pretty good idea of the content.

So once you have an idea of what’s to be covered, write out 4 or 5 information points under each heading. One sentence dot points with a clear space between each will be easiest to read and retain – and refresh your memory if you take a quick glance during the interview (just don’t have them on display).

4. Arrive early and get settled

This might sound obvious, but we’re all busy people and more often than not we’re rushing from one thing to another and all the prep time we have is in the car on the way to the interview.

Even if that is your reality, here’s my advice:

· Arrive 15 minutes early. This is a non-negotiable. Block-off the extra time in your diary as though it were part of the actual appointment. You do not want to arrive late and harried and breathless before you sit down.

· I suggest before you check in with the producer/journalist you go somewhere quiet, like the bathrooms, and take 5 minutes to collect yourself. Deep breathing, power posing and listening to your favourite music are all great tactics to get into the zone.

· Then check yourself in, get seated before the interview is due to start. If this is a print or audio-only interview you can keep your key messages handy, like inside your notebook, so you can see them, and check them off once you’ve covered them.

This brings me to my next point:

5. Be ‘on’ before you’re on.

Be mindful that the interview starts before it officially starts. Expect the cameras to be rolling and the mic to be on before the journalist welcomes you. Expect everything you say to be captured and used.

We’ve probably all seen the vision of outgoing NAB CEO, Andrew Thornburn adjusting his clothing before fronting the media about his resignation this week. I’m surprised I haven’t heard a quip from a reporter about it being too late for him to be ‘pulling his socks up’.

They don’t need your permission to run with anything you say or do. If they run something you don’t like, and you complain, they won’t care. In the most unlikely and extreme circumstances, if it’s proved to be defamatory and they issue a correction, that is still no vindication for you because the damage in the public spotlight will have been done.

An audience can’t unhear or unsee anything. So do everything you can to create the image you want them to see and the message you want them to hear.

Now, I’ve written this out to be a reminder to myself as much as to anyone else about best practice.

I think I probably broke every rule in the book in my interview last week. I was rushed and over-confident and didn’t prepare nearly adequately. I’m lucky it was a friendly, casual interview and being a little inarticulate didn’t do me too much harm.

But it’s a great reminder, even for a PR person, to go back to the rules and play by them. It’s called best practice for a reason. So please, take my advice (I will next time!), and prepare for your next media interview.

Do you have any tips to add or an experience to share? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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