Preparing Your Company Spokesperson for Media Interviews

March 04, 2018 - Sophie Thompson

Having a good company spokesperson is essential for your public relations as the public will see and hear them more than anyone else in your organisation. The spokesperson gives your organisation both a face and a voice, helping to build trust with the audience on your behalf.

Problems may arise if your spokesperson is unprepared, especially during a crisis. In this article, we outline how to prepare your company spokesperson for media interviews:

  • What is a company spokesperson?
  • Skills an elected spokesperson must have
  • Spokesperson training
  • Interview tips
    • Before the interview
    • During the interview
    • After the interview
  • Handling a crisis communications interview
  • General tips for the spokesperson

What is a company spokesperson?

A company spokesperson is an individual who has been elected to represent the company and speak on the organisation's behalf to the media. This could be someone in the marketing department, a member of a PR firm hired by the company or an employee, such as the CEO. They will be an "expert" in the eyes of the audience.

Crisis media interview with company spokesperson

Skills an elected spokesperson must have

Choosing the correct spokesperson is crucial for your organisation's success because they can significantly influence the audience.

There are certain characteristics a spokesperson should have:

  • Strong communication skills: They must be able to deliver key messages that are tailored to the needs of the audience. This includes communicating empathy because a caring nature is more likely to appeal to the audience - this is especially important during crisis communication interviews.
  • Charismatic speaker: Messages are only as strong as their delivery. The spokesperson should be able to convey their messages in a compelling way and the audience should enjoy listening to them.
  • Genuine: Ensure your spokesperson supports the organisation's messages as it can be clear when they do not.
  • Intuitive and able remain calm when under pressure: They are likely to be asked difficult questions or they may be interviewed during a time of crisis. The spokesperson must be able to react appropriately to these questions and stick to their key messages whilst remaining composed.
  • Have authority: Generally, the spokesperson should be a high-ranking member of the organisation, such as, a senior executive. The audience is more likely to trust a spokesperson in a high position because they should be able to provide reliable information. However, caution must be exercised when the company is dealing with a crisis. Using a senior member as a spokesperson suggests the situation is being treated seriously but you must know when to draw the line. For example, frequently CEO's are spokespeople, so if your CEO was being interviewed during a relatively minor problem, the problem may appear bigger than it really is.
  • Relatable: Think about having more than one spokesperson if your company covers a large audience. For example, a CEO discussing a new gadget might be helpful on a business news show but on a show targeting teenagers you may want a spokesperson who is similar to this demographic.
  • Media training: The elected spokesperson must have received spokesperson training because if they are inexperienced they may weaken the messages and even damage the company's reputation.

Spokesperson training

Spokesperson training provide safe environments to learn and practice key skills needed to produce a successful media interview. It is beneficial regardless of the level of experience. Training can be received in different formats:

Practicing with colleagues

Practicing mock interviews with colleagues can be a useful way to fine-tune skills:

  • Consider filming these interviews and going through them afterwards with the spokesperson. Remember to address nervous behaviours.
  • Practice delivering short answers - ask the spokesperson to repeatedly answer a question until they can answer it within 30 seconds.
  • Ask the spokesperson to imagine and describe a member of the audience they are addressing. Then ask the spokesperson to imagine them as they answer the questions.

Online courses

Online spokesperson training courses are also available. There a variety out there catering to different preferences, for example, some courses consist of critiquing interview videos, in other courses the spokesperson may be able to practice with somebody via a webcam or perhaps attend live classes with professional coaches. Location is not a limiting factor meaning high-quality training can still be accessed.

In-person training with a coach

Training face-to-face with a coach will provide your spokesperson with training in realistic situations. So it's a good way to learn and improve skills whilst leaving the spokesperson feeling more confident for the real interview.

Generally, the coaches will be experienced journalists which means they can provide valuable insight into how interviewers think and act. This is especially useful in teaching the spokesperson how to anticipate what direction an interview could go in and how to manage this effectively.

Media interview on TV with company spokesperson

Interview tips: Before the interview

A lack of preparation can hinder the spokesperson's performance before they even arrive at the interview location. Preparing for the interview will leave them feeling more confident which will increase the likelihood of them performing well. Ensure that you and your spokesperson go through the following tips beforehand:

Provide the interviewer's background information

Preparation can be adapted to how much you know about the interviewer. Therefore it's important to find out:

  • What stories the interviewer typically covers
  • Whether they have covered similar topics previously
  • What they're hoping to get from the interview

If you know about the interviewer's experience and their aims, you may be able to gauge how they feel about your organisation and predict what topics and questions may come up.

Watch or listen to recent shows

Watch and listen to the interviewer's recent shows so you understand how they usually operate. This will also highlight any opinions and biases that may surface in the interview.

Provide the spokesperson with the logistics

It's likely that you will be worrying mostly about the unknown. You or your organisation should accumulate the following information to alleviate some of this anxiety:

  • Why the interview is happening and why it will be useful for your organisation.
  • A description of the show
  • The format of the interview - is it a TV or radio show? Will it be live? Will there be other guests, if so will their opinions cause disagreements?
  • Time and location of the interview
  • Telephone number of the media outlet
  • Length of the interview
  • Who the audience are - this is very important as this allows you to tailor your messages to the audience's needs and use relatable evidence.

Many organisations create a prep document with the above.

Review your past interviews

Go over your previous interviews and find out what was done well and what needs improving.

Key messages

In your interview you're aiming to deliver key messages to the audience which they should remember afterwards. Prepare around three essential messages as this is a good amount for the audience to absorb in a short time. In these key messages:

  1. Tell the audience something new, such as, "We have created a type of environmentally friendly energy that can be used to fuel cars."
  2. Support this by using interesting evidence. There are two types of evidence - facts and examples:

    Facts are statistics or figures. Understand where these statistics have come from in case you are asked and preferably use facts provided by independent agencies as these are generally more reliable. Tailor your facts to your audience, for instance, depending on the audience you may say "That is the equivalent of consuming three double cheeseburgers" rather than "2000 calories".

    Examples can be in the form of personal stories, case studies, anecdotes etc. They are usually more relatable and memorable than facts. For example, if your organisation is trying to reduce social exclusion amongst the elderly, you may describe how a, previously isolated, elderly woman's life improved after making new friends and engaging in more activities through your organisation.

  3. Clarify what you are doing or what you would like the audience to do; "We are now making changes to our policies to prevent this from re-occurring" or "Download our app".

Repeat these key messages throughout the interview.

Preparing and practicing answers

You may be sent interview questions or topics beforehand. Even if you haven't been sent anything, try to predict and prepare for what you may be asked:

  • Only make brief notes as you do not want to sound scripted.
  • If you are concerned that you will be tempted to write full-length answers, only practice orally so the interview feels and sounds more natural.
  • Practice in virtual reality/with colleagues/friends etc.
  • Practice in front of a mirror - this also highlights your body language and posture.
  • Work on creating memorable sentences or words as these can produce effective sound bites.

Expect to be asked about wider topics

Near the end of the interview you may be asked a question regarding a wider topic. Such as, "While you're here, how do you think the introduction of the x policy will affect your organisation?" Answering poorly may detract from your messages so keep up-to-date with relevant news and prepare to be asked about these topics.

Send media kits and questions to interviewer

Send a media pack to the interviewer prior. This will provide them with your organisation's information which will be used to formulate their questions. It should also provide you with some comfort as you know they're reading reliable information.

If it's a possibility send pre-answered questions to the interviewer. This will give you more control over the interview's direction so it should help with your nerves.

Picking an outfit

When picking your interview outfit, first think about who you are representing because your attire should support this. Also, wearing the wrong outfit can draw attention away from your key messages:

Avoid wearing:

  1. Patterned clothing
  2. Solid blacks, whites or reds
  3. Very bright colours, such as, lime green
  4. Short hemlines, including trousers, as you may be sat down
  5. Heavy fabrics
  6. Multiple accessories
  7. Large, dangly and chunky jewellery


  1. Dress in light fabrics
  2. Wear solid colours
  3. Opt for simple jewellery
  4. Ensure your glasses are glare-proof
  5. Make sure your face is visible
  6. Apply any make-up beforehand
  7. Use subtle and non-glossy make-up
  8. Apply powder to reduce shine, including to your head if you're bald
  9. Get someone to check your outfit beforehand
Media interview with company spokesperson

Interview tips: During the interview

Use simple language

Avoid technical terminology or jargon so your messages come across clearly. It may be helpful to imagine answering family members or friends.

Keep answers succinct

Your aim should be to deliver your messages in a comprehensive way without losing the audience's attention:

  • Try to answer each question within 30-45 seconds.
  • Stop talking once the question is answered so your message is not lost.
  • Interviewers may use silences in the hopes you'll fill them so become comfortable with silences or you may say something you regret.
  • Never deviate from supporting your messages

Give something to the audience

Prove that you have something valuable to share instead of over-branding. Provide the audience with useful information, tactics and tips. They're more likely to warm to you, and therefore your organisation, if you're already making an effort to help them out.

Why and what

Try to begin answers with a "why" and then lead into a "what" if it will benefit your company's image. "What does your company do?" is a commonly asked question. In your answer, you can emphasise the value of what the company does if you explain why it does it.

For example: "Many people in lower economical areas say they want to eat more healthily but they prioritise cheaper foods. Our organisation helps set up community allotments in areas of economic deprivation."

Bridging technique

Do not wait for an interviewer to ask you the "right questions" to get your messages across as this may never happen. The bridging technique allows you to move the interview towards your preferred direction:

  1. First, provide an answer to the question asked
  2. Bridge using a statement that starts moving the discussion towards your preferred direction, such as "what actually matters is…", "it's also important to remember…", "the more interesting question is…" or "the key matter is…".
  3. Provide a key message

No Distractions

Concentration is vital during the interview so ensure you recognise anything than can be distracting and then take steps to manage this:

  • Avoid fidgeting or bringing anything that distracts you, for example, if you unconsciously play with your earrings then leave them at home.
  • Ensure there is nothing that can make a sound, such as, any jewellery or electronic notifications. Noises can spoil the audio and it looks unprofessional.
  • Use one small card for your notes, if needed in a radio interview, as this is quieter than flicking through a notepad.

Warm up your voice

Prior to the interview, ensure that you prepare your vocal chords:

  • You could read aloud a book that requires vocal variety, such as, a children's book.
  • Avoid dairy and eating or drinking anything too sugary beforehand as mucus can build-up leading to frequent throat clearing.

Body language

The audience form an impression of you and therefore your organisation from this quick interview so they're using anything than can to form an opinion. This includes your body language:

  • Keep your body language open - no crossed arms.
  • Avoid fidgeting and displaying nervous habits, such as, fiddling with your hair.
  • Ensure you look engaged whilst the interviewer is speaking.
  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer as you would in any conversation.
  • Avoid looking at the camera unless instructed otherwise.
  • Smile during the interview as this makes you look and sound more enthusiastic.
  • Emphasise points by using hand gestures but use them sparingly.
  • Place your hands on your lap if you tend to overuse them.
  • Maintain a straight posture.

Dealing with difficulties

  • Prepare for difficult questions beforehand, especially if there has been a crisis.
  • Avoid using negative language as this can create a sound bite that can be used against you.
  • Remain composed before and after the interview because nothing is "off the record".
  • If the interviewer mentions information that you unaware of explain that you cannot speculate as you have not heard about this information. Afterwards bridge back to your message, for example, "Based on (use evidence that you are aware of), the main issue is…."
  • Only answer a question if you know the answer. If you do not know the answer admit this and then move on using bridging. For example, "I'm uncertain about that but what I do know is…" Sometimes it's better to admit that you don't know and explain that you will find out - this would be useful if you were asked for a figure.

Interview tips: After the interview

Watch or listen to the interview so you can learn from it.

Thank the interviewing team with an email and clarify anything that you missed:

  • "This may not have come across..."
  • "It may be of interest that..."

Handling a crisis communications interview

Many organisations realise they require a spokesperson when the company is dealing with a negative situation because the media tend to heavily publicise these stories. Your organisation must be ready prior to this as a story can quickly go viral. If there has been a crisis, a media interview should be organised as soon as possible so you have the chance to protect your organisation's reputation. Live interviews are preferable as the editors have less control.

Crisis management media interview with company spokesperson

General tips for the spokesperson

Difficult questions: Anticipate and prepare for difficult questions.

Careful: There is no room for error in a crisis communications interview so you must not stray from your messages. If you say anything that could be misinterpreted or could produce bad sound bites this could be used negatively and even destroy your company's image.

Expression: It's important for your facial expression to match what is being said as it's likely that smiling will be inappropriate.

Clarify actions: Ensure that you clarify: what actions you are taking to remedy the crisis, how you will assist anyone that has been harmed, explain whether there is an investigation taking place and inform the interviewer how you will lower the chances of this happening again, such as, putting new policies in place.

Take responsibility: Admit the mistake and don't defend it. For example, during the 2010 catastrophic oil spill the former CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, said "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume". This understandably upset the public. So make sure you admit your mistakes and move on to talk about how you're trying to resolve the situation and prevent it from happening again.

Convey the most important message: At the first chance, usually after an open question, convey your most important message.

Evasion: Do not evade questions or conceal negative information as this will only frustrate the audience and it looks like you do not care. If you are asked a negative question, answer it and try to make a positive point when possible.

Emotionally-charged questions: You may want to argue with the interviewer but it's important that you remain calm, polite and focused because you're talking via the interviewer to the public and you want them to trust you. Rather than acting defensively, act positively.

Never blame: Never blame others as it can worsen a situation, for instance, after a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight in 2017, United Airlines tried blaming the passenger. This considerably escalated the situation as there was opposing video evidence. Instead of casting the blame discuss what you are doing to resolve the issue.

Remain assertive: Act assertively rather than passively or aggressively; rather than saying "I disagree," say "I'm unsure I agree with that."

Avoid saying no comment/I can't tell you that: Understand that there may be legal implications of what you say. If you cannot comment on something explain why or it looks like you're hiding something. For example, you could say "At present I cannot comment on that as there are legal proceedings in process"

Explain the context: Highlight the context to the interviewer, for example: emphasise that this is a one-off incident, remind the public that the record was flawless before this etc. This is what Merlin Entertainment did after a group of young adults were severely injured by a roller coaster crash.

Trust us: Avoid asking the audience to "Trust me/us, we'll resolve this." This makes you sound conceited which is unfavourable. The public should be able to form a judgement regarding whether they can trust you from the interview.

Negative language: Negative language should be avoided even if the interviewer has used it. You could be asked "Is this a complete disaster?" Rather than using "disaster", a "baited" word, in your response, say "No, that's incorrect/I disagree…"

Be empathetic: Ensure that you communicate your empathy and show that you are concerned about what has happened even if you are asked hostile questions. Use caring and empathetic language, for example, admit that you're "deeply upset" and then explain that you are working to resolve the situation and improve standards to reduce the chances of this happening again. Regulating your voice can also help show your sincerity.

Example of how not to do it: During the BP oil spill, Tony Hayward said: "There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I'd like my life back." This was an insensitive comment to make considering that 11 rig workers died and many lives have been affected due to the damage the oil spill has caused on the fishing industry.

Result: there was public outrage at the comments and Hayward was replaced as CEO.

Avoid hypothetical or speculative questions: Never speculate on hypothetical situations ("what if" situations). For instance, say you were asked "What will happen to your employees if your company continues to lose money?" If you answered with "I'm unsure, but if I had to guess..." the audience may interpret your answer as a fact. Instead, point out that this is speculation: "I wouldn't want to speculate..." and stick to facts.

Never make absolute promises: Never promise that this incident will never happen again. This can be used against you in the future.

This is a public relations issue: Never bring up your PR team as it may be assumed that you care more about your image rather than the actual problem.