Media Training: Essential Tips for a Great Interview
A media interview is a broadcasted discussion where an interviewer poses questions to a specialist on, for example, a TV programme or radio show. There are multiple reasons for doing a media interview: perhaps you want to promote a new product for your business or there has been a crisis within the company so an explanation is necessary.
Whatever the case, the aim is always the same: to supply good answers and convey your messages clearly. In this article, we've outlined ways of preparing for and delivering media interviews.
Before the interview
As with any interview, you must prepare prior to talking with the media. Usually the host wants this to go well for you and you’ve been invited for the interview because you are regarded as an expert. However if there has been a crisis relating to your business, the host can be hostile.
Know your messages
You've agreed to an interview because you want to convey specific messages. You want to introduce these messages to the audience during the interview and ensure they remember them afterwards. Prepare one-three crucial messages you wish to convey - the audience may struggle to remember more than this and you will only have a short amount of airtime.
These messages should:
- Inform the audience of something new, for example, "We have created a new app that can..."
- Be supported by interesting examples, stories and statistics. Personal experiences are even better, if relevant, so the audience gets to know a bit about you; "Throughout my teens and early twenties I struggled with acne and spent a fortune trying to find a cream that worked."
- Explain what you are doing or what you would like the audience to do, for example, "We are now working with the police to lower the risk of this happening again" or "Check out our website".
Do your research
Much of the anxiety felt about appearing in a media interview is regarding the uncertainty: What will the interviewer ask? What if I cannot think of anything to say? etc. Do some research so you feel more confident.
Do research on the following:
- The format of the programme, for example, is it quite formal or casual? How long are the interviews? This will assist with your preparations and practice.
- Learn about your interviewer's opinions and interests so you can include them more and make your answers more personable.
- Try to find out what the interviewer wants from you as this will help inform you of potential questions.
- Understand the audience so you can tailor your messages to their needs, by, for example, using relatable examples and using language the audience is familiar with.
- Be aware of the opinions of any additional guests as you may have to prepare for disagreements.
Prepare by practicing aloud
The host may send you the interview questions beforehand so use this opportunity to prepare answers:
- You may just want to practice orally so the interview feels more natural.
- Or maybe make brief notes - avoid writing full sentences as you do not want to sound scripted.
- If you're concerned that receiving the exact questions beforehand will tempt you into writing a script, request a list of the themes the interviewer will focus on instead.
- Conduct mock interviews with friends or colleagues and get feedback from them.
- Practice in front of a mirror - this also has the benefit of making you aware of your body language and posture.
- If your interview is not live, it's likely that an editor will reduce what you've said. Again, think about the key points you want to mention and work on creating effective sound bites e.g. memorable words/sentences.
Turn off distractions
Actively listening to and answering questions consists of being as focused as possible. Ensure that you deal with distractions as they can affect your concentration and therefore the quality of your answers:
- Remove all distractions, for example, if you have a habit of fiddling with your watch when you speak then don't wear it.
- Ensure that there are no sounds/noises, such as, phone notifications and bracelets clinking together. This can ruin the audio and make you seem unprofessional.
- Try to avoid fidgeting, even in a radio interview as this may be picked up on the speakers.
- If you need notes for your radio interview, put these on a single card rather than on a sheet of paper. This prevents any rustling being recorded.
Choosing your outfit
Before choosing your interview outfit, think about the content of the interview and who you are representing. For example, a representative from a pharmaceutical company is likely to wear business attire whereas a manager promoting their new cat café may dress in more casual and approachable clothing. Think about how your image represents the company.
Your outfit should not draw attention away from what you are saying - it should support it and make you look credible. Here are some tips:
- Avoid wearing patterned clothes, especially stripes and checks. These can cause moving lines on screen.
- Instead wear solid colours but avoid black, white and red because these colours affect exposure.
- It's also best to steer clear of very bright colours, like hot pink, as this is too distracting.
- If you know it's a seated interview, don't wear short skirts or trousers in case the seat is low and your clothes ride up. You don't want to feel self-conscious and therefore be distracted.
- Heavy materials can make you feel hot under studio lights so wear lighter fabrics.
- Wear neat and comfortable clothing - you don't want to be readjusting every few seconds.
- Avoid wearing lots of accessories as this is too distracting.
- Opt for wearing simple pieces of jewellery because large, dangly and chunky jewellery can catch the light and the microphone may pick-up noises from their movements.
- If you wear glasses ensure they are glare-proof.
- Keep your face visible, especially if you have long hair.
- Apply your make-up before arriving to the interview location as it's unlikely this will be organised for you.
- Choose natural and subtle make-up.
- Avoid glossy products as these shine.
- Apply powder to your face so it looks less shiny on camera - this is also a good tip if you are bald.
- Get someone to check what you're going to wear.
- Bring a spare outfit if you want to double-check with the producer.
Send media packs and questions to the interviewer
Send your media kit to the interviewer so they can quickly learn about your business and extract any relevant images and information for the interview. Since the media kit is sent directly from the source, i.e. you/your company, you can be assured that the interviewer is reading accurate and reliable information.
Sometimes you can send pre-answered questions to the interviewer. This can be beneficial because it can move the interview to your preferred direction, helping you feel and look more confident. However, only do this if you think the interview will continue to sound natural.
During the interview
Body language and eye contact
Television interviews can be more challenging than radio interviews because your body language is on display to many people. You will want the audience to view you as trustworthy, confident, friendly and also professional. Body language is a factor that the audience and the interviewer will use to form this perception:
- Smile - this is also important when being interviewed for a radio programme because people can tell if you're smiling. You will sound more approachable and enthusiastic.
- Stand/sit straight.
- Maintain eye contact with the interviewer and ignore the camera if there is one. This can be difficult as there may be multiple individuals in the room but just focus on the interviewer as you would with a friend in a busy café.
- Practice your "listening face" before the interview - remember that the interviewer will be talking for the same amount of time as you so rehearse listening and looking engaged.
- Use hand gestures that follow what you are expressing but do not overuse them.
- Keep your hands on your lap if you are aware of using them to talk.
- Try to avoid engaging in nervous behaviours, such as, shifting your weight, fidgeting etc.
- Keep your arms uncrossed so your body language is open.
Watch an example of good body language and eye contact during an interview
Give something to the audience
You are being interviewed because the media think that you have something interesting to share. Prove this; instead of endorsing yourself or your company in a heavy sales pitch, provide the audience with useful information, tactics and tips. The audience is more likely to warm to you and therefore look into your business if you're already putting them first.
Keep the answers concise
Your main aim is to get your messages across to the audience and to do this keep your answers as concise as possible to avoid boring and confusing people:
To keep your answers concise:
- Stop speaking when you've answered the question because you do not want to weaken the message you wish to convey. Become comfortable with silences as this signals to the interviewer to move on.
- Avoid technical terminology or jargon.
- Avoid talking for over one minute when answering a question.
- Always support your messages.
- Repeat your key messages so the audience remembers them.
- Use memorable words and sentences as these can be used to make great sound bites.
Answer the question, get your key messages across and do not share an excess amount of information.
The interviewer will not always ask the questions needed to get your key messages out. Bridging is a technique that can shift the interview towards your desired direction:
- First, make sure you answer the interviewer's question.
- Follow with a bridging statement, for example:
- What actually matters is...
- What's important to understand here is that...
- It's also important to remember...
- The more interesting question is...
- The key matter is...
- What my clients tell me is that...
- Introduce or repeat a key message.
Modulate your voice
Your voice reflects how you feel about what you are saying:
- Avoid speaking in monotone and modulate your voice: raise your voice to stress something or lower it for intensity. Practicing beforehand helps because it will highlight to you where emphasis is needed.
- If you are being asked negative questions or you are speaking about controversial topics ensure that your voice remains composed and calm.
Slow down your pace of speaking
When you are nervous or excited you may begin to speak more quickly. As well as practicing the content of the interview, it is also important to practice pace. During the interview if you notice that your speech has accelerated, pause and slow down.
Practice pauses beforehand to make them feel less unnatural in the interview. It's likely you will have to pause after an interviewer asks a question so that you can construct and answer. When the audience see/hear the interview this will appear as thoughtful and not awkward.
Dealing with problems
- Prepare for possible difficult questions beforehand.
- If you do not know the answer respond with "That's a really good question, I'm not certain so let me look into that."
- Avoid saying "no comment" as this looks untrustworthy
- If you are presented with unfamiliar information or statistics, say that you are unfamiliar with them and therefore you cannot speculate. Then use the bridging technique to go back to your messages, for example, "Based on (use evidence that you are aware of), the key matter is…."
- Avoid using negative language even if the interviewer has. For example, you could be asked "Is this a catastrophe?" Don't use "catastrophe" in your response, instead say "No, that's incorrect/I disagree…"
- Even though the interview may be over, remain composed as you still may be recorded.
After the interview
Watch/listen to your interview and thank the team
When it is broadcasted, watch or listen to your interview and learn from it. Show it to others and ask for their feedback.
Send a message thanking the team and say you're happy to come back in the future. This also provides you with the chance to clarify anything you missed:
- This may not have come across...
- It may be of interest that...