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Nine tips for surviving media interviews

Yes, we know traditionally lists should be ‘Ten Tips for…” but that always makes us mistrust number ten – it’s the leftover thought that you had to dream up to make your list a perfect 10. So here are our Nine Tips for Surviving Media Interviews.

  1. Prepare

Goes without saying – know your topic, know your audience, know what you are likely to be asked and what your answers should be.

2. Keep it simple

Every industry, every business, every government t department has its own secret language – and too often we forget that acronyms and words that are very familiar to us mean nothing to the outside world. Avoid jargon – imagine you are talking to someone who knows nothing about the subject.

3. Spe…a…k…. Slo….w…ly…!

When we are nervous, (or enthusiastic about our subject!) we all have a tendency to speak quickly. When you are being interviewed (whether for radio, TV or print media), take time to slow down your speech, so your answers are measured and considered.

4. Stay on message…

Know what you want to get out of the interview. A plea for funding? Attendance at an event? More people to know the value of the service you provide? Work this out, then think about how to frame your comments to make sure you get your message across.

5. Be friendly.

People often assume that a journalist is out to trip them up. And yes, some might be – if you’re a high profile business person who’s been accused of dodgy deals, or a tradesman who has conned elderly ladies out of their life savings. Assuming that neither of these things apply to you (which my guess it doesn’t), then trust the journalist – nine times out of ten they are interviewing you because they believe their audience will be interested to learn more about the subject you are there to talk about. Approaching the interview in this way will make for a more relaxed and natural conversation.

6. Make their job easy for them.

Journalists have a job to do, and the best interviewees are the ones that make it easy for them. This means understanding whom they are aiming the story at and adapting your tone and content to match their audience (while always keeping in mind your key messages).

7. Use short sentences.

Try to keep your sentences short and to the point. The journalist may edit your comments and use only part of the interview – so making one point per sentence, that can stand alone, will help to avoid your message getting lost in the editing process.

8. Don’t engage with a difficult question.

If an interviewer starts asking questions that you don’t want to answer, or taking the interview in a direction you hadn’t planned for, there are various ways of making sure you stay on message. The first thing is that just because a journalist asks a question, it doesn’t mean you have to answer it (although NEVER say No Comment!). Acknowledge the reporter’s point, and then use bridging phrases such as ‘what’s important here…’, ‘what we really need to understand is…’. Some reporters may keep asking the same question in a number of different ways if they don’t hear the answer they are looking for – don’t be phased, and keep coming back to your messages. And don’t be tempted by the journalist’s use of long silences or pauses to trick you into saying more than you intended. Say what you want to say, and leave it there.

9. Finish strongly.

Think about the positive message you want to leave people with, and use this to round off the interview so that even if the audience only remembers the last thing you said, it is still significant.

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