People in business often mistakenly assume that because they know their companies, industries and products so well, they can handle a media interview. But even the most sure-footed spokesman can bomb an interview when he or she doesn’t plan properly. A little media training goes a long way, and you should consider it an investment in yourself. If you go into an interview and just answer questions without a thought for what you want the audience to know, you yield control of the interview to the journalist. Be prepared and know in advance what your goals are for the interview.

Frequently, you can anticipate the questions you’ll be asked. Make a list and then write out the answers.
An official from the UN-HABITAT during a media interview. Photo by UN-HABITAT photo gallery

Here are 6 ways to prevent you from making a poor impression in your next interview with a journalist;

1. Maintain Control.

You can’t control a journalist or the content of a story. You can, and must, control your into a journalist’s story throughout the interview. A media interview isn’t the same as making a business presentation where the audience will generally refrain from asking questions until you are finished speaking. Expect to be interrupted. The journalist isn’t there to serve as a sponge absorbing all you have to say. A good journalist will question and challenge your points.

2. Ask the question you want to answer.

Don’t wait for the reporter to ask the question you want to answer. She or he might not ask it. Instead, segue into the topic you want to discuss. For example:

• “What really matters is ______.”

• “The most important issue is ______.”

• “The more interesting question is ______.”

Do not limit yourself to the subject matter of the questions. Take the opportunity to “bridge” to additional points. Use linking phrases above. Be sure to mention the name of your organization, instead of “we.” You want the journalist to use your company name throughout the story.  It’s also a reminder to associate your comments with your company and not attribute them to another organization he may be including in the story.

3. Prepare in Advance

Frequently, you can anticipate the questions you’ll be asked. Make a list and then write out the answers. Rehearse your responses aloud on your own or with a colleague. Practice working in your key messages. You don’t want to sound like a robot, so use different words to make the same point.

You can never let your guard down when answering questions from a journalist. Don’t be lulled into having an “off-the-record” friendly conversation after the formal interview is over. That’s when a journalist can spring a question that you didn’t expect. We all tend to relax and breathe a sigh of relief when we feel the heat is off but don’t forget you’re still on the record. Don’t say do or say anything you wouldn’t want to see in print or on air.

4. Tell the Truth

The first rule is to be truthful. Never lie, because the reporter can find out the real facts on the Internet or from your competitors.

You’re not obligated to answer every question. However, you are obliged to respond, even if it’s to say that you can’t discuss proprietary information.

If you don’t know the answer say so, and state the likelihood of providing a response. If you can get the answer tell the reporter when you’ll get back to her. Or suggest that she speak to someone else in your company, or an outside source, who may have the answer.

interview is not a friendly conversation that travels gently to different topics – don’t treat it as such. You are there to represent your organization, so be courteous in responding to questions, but be diligent in making your key message points.

Frequently, when a reporter says you did not answer the question, it really means that you did not answer the way the reporter had hoped you would. If that happens, paraphrase the question as you understood it, and answer it truthfully, including your key message points.

Be honest and tell the reporter if you can’t answer a question at all because you don’t know the answer, or you can’t because the information is private.

5. Stick to what the reporter asks and what you want to say.

There’s no need to volunteer additional information. This goes back to planning what your goals are for the interview. You should know what you’d like to communicate from the start, and stick to that information as much as possible. More is not better; answer questions briefly. When you give long-winded answers, you give the journalist the power to choose which parts of your answer to use and omit. If you don’t know the answer, just say so. There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know, that there hasn’t been a decision yet or that you aren’t sure of the answer and will report back.

6. Don’t ask to approve the story before it’s published.

This will make you look unprofessional. Journalists will sometimes fact-check information with you, so you can volunteer to be available for any further questions or fact-checks if the journalist wishes. To perform well in an interview, practice makes perfect. Professional media training will help you hone your messages, answer difficult questions and practice speaking in front of an audience. If you can’t get professional help, at least practice in front of a mirror. It’s also helpful to have someone record your answers on video so you can watch yourself and critique your answers and facial expressions.

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