Preparation is everything when it comes to interviews with members of the media. Good preparation helps you feel comfortable, confident and in control. NOT preparing can lead to the very opposite.
Here are some basics for preparing for a media interview that should help put your mind at ease before the reporter starts asking questions.
- Try to schedule enough time to prepare. If a reporter shows up with a camera or microphone where you are and asks you for an interview, get as much information as possible about what the reporter needs and ask to schedule the interview for a later time or location to allow you time to prepare. An exception to this might be at a community or public meeting where a reporter may approach you for an interview, in which case you should come prepared for this possibility if you are involved with a topic being discussed.
- Ask questions about what the reporter wants to accomplish in the interview. Why are they doing the interview? What is the story about?
- If possible, request the interview questions prior to the interview. This allows time to research and prepare accurate information. However, you need to understand the reporter does have the right to ask additional questions that may not be provided ahead of time.
- Define your messages and do your research.The most important thing to prepping for a media interview is to know your content, as thoroughly as possible. Write down notes that you can study later a couple times before the interview, as a refresher. Try limiting each fact to two to three bullet points.
In some cases, the best ways to prep for an interview may depend on whether the interview will appear in the newspaper, on television, on radio, or on the internet. Let’s talk specifically about the main types of media interviews.
Preparing for the Print or Online Interview
If the reporter is conducting a print or online interview, you would most likely be talking with the reporter on the phone, so:
- Have your material close at hand. Any notes you prepared for yourself should be nearby.
- Be close to your computer, if possible. If a reporter asks a question that requires a moment’s research, such as a statistic that may have slipped your mind, you will have easier access to information.
Preparing for the Television Interview
The television interview is quite a different animal from the print or online interview. Ideally, you will have the messages memorized.
- Think in terms of soundbites. If the interview will be recorded, and the reporter will be pulling soundbites from what you say, you should think about how to frame your key messages in 10-15 seconds. If the entire interview is going to be broadcast, you do not need to be as succinct.
- Dress appropriately for your profession. “Business casual” is a good choice for most, in clean, pressed clothing.
Preparing for the Radio Interview
Radio reporters have multiple deadlines throughout the day, in some cases, more than TV or newspaper reporters. The 24-hour news cycle demands almost all reporters meet more deadlines than they had to a couple decades ago.
- Be efficient with your statements, especially if you are being called for a quick interview that will be cut up into soundbites.
- Don’t be pushed into discussing something that is beyond your knowledge. If you are participating in a live call-in show, all bets are usually off. Anything can happen. But if it seems you’re getting pushed out of your elements, own it. You could suggest other organizations that may be of help, or you can make a more generic point.
- Don’t fake it. If the host or a caller asks you a question you simply do not know the answer to, that’s okay. Just say something like, “You know, that is not my specialty, but there is something I do want to ask about……..” and go on from there. That way, you have turned the situation around to your comfort zone.
As you can see, how you prepare might depend on what kind of medium your interview will appear in, but all of these preparation tips will be effective no matter the medium.
In my next article, we’re ready to get to brass tacks…the very interview itself. I’ll go over good things to keep in mind while you are talking to a reporter.