Written by Felipe Sturgis • Published 5th December 2018 • 4 minute read

The prospect of being interviewed by a journalist can seem a little daunting, especially if it has been squeezed into a short timeframe, during which you are the spokesperson for an entire organisation or its viewpoint. If handled badly, media interviews – particularly broadcast ones – can be a disaster for your own brand and the company, with lasting consequences.

Just look at Elon Musk. When he made the fateful decision to drink whiskey and smoke cannabis during an on-air interview with host Joe Rogan, the following day two chief execs quit and Tesla’s shares plummeted.

And last month Persimmon boss Jeff Fairburn was forced to quit after an on-screen grilling over his £75m bonus ended in a lot of squirming, Jeff walking out of the interview and lots of subsequent negative headlines.

To make sure the worst-case scenario doesn’t become a reality for you, there are a few key preparation stages for media interviews. The following steps will help you make the most of every opportunity to drive your company’s story forward, pushing positive and commercially important media messages to market in the appropriate way.

With the initial advice of steering clear of alcohol and drugs out the way, here are six key steps to prepare and succeed in media interviews:

Familiarise yourself with the interview format and medium

Knowing the type of interview that you are being put forward for is crucial. Firstly, work out which media platform  the interview is being published on. If it is a written piece in print or online, then the delivery of the interview will be different compared to a TV or radio interview. Whether the interview is live or being pre-recorded will also shape the way in which you should prepare. Knowing and understanding the type of interview you are going into and the format will allow you to successfully plan your talking points, timing and presentation.

Know who you’re talking to  

Ensure you know who the interviewer is and that you’re familiar with their segment, show or column. Look for previous interviews  they have done to get an understanding of their style and type of questions that they have asked before. It is incredibly important to get an understanding of who you will be speaking to. It will make you feel more comfortable when you begin your interview, and this in turn will help you prepare talking points based on that individual or media outlet’s unique interests and even political leanings.

Prioritise your messages

There may be multiple key messages running through your business’ marketing, but not all of them are appropriate for every interview. Understanding the context of the interview; why it’s been set up and what the journalist wants to probe into, is crucial to understanding what business messages you can and should be delivering. This should be at the forefront of your mind when being questioned. Pull together three to four key proof points that convey the overarching message you’d like to share publicly. If you need (on a phone interview), have a cheat sheet to hand or some flash cards that keep your comments focused. Even though it is crucial to push your viewpoint across, you should not fall into the trap of repeating the same answer and should remain authentic when responding to questions.

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it

You can have all the right messages and facts to hand, but the style of delivery is also crucial to successfully answering media questions. How you deliver your answers can inspire confidence, convey remorse and sincerity, or project arrogance or incivility. Particularly in broadcast interviews you must consider body language, response timing, bridging phrases and words to avoid so you can deliver a considered answer. It is also a good idea to practice keeping an even tone in your voice.

Anticipate difficult questions

It’s rare that an interviewer is willing to share specific questions beforehand, but once you have a sense of what the interview is about, consider the difficult questions that may arise. There is nothing worse than failing to adequately respond to a difficult question, or not being equipped with the techniques that deflect negativity – or can buy you time for consideration of your response. This specific, ‘worst-case scenario’ preparation will also be invaluable as it will help you stay calm and collected, demonstrating your expertise, even under pressure.

Practice, practice, practice

This may seem obvious, but it is the easiest way to succeed in your media interview. Spend some time practising potential questions and how you would answer them – and do it aloud. Don’t be afraid to ask more than one person to practice with you so that you get different perspectives on your delivery. In any interview, ensure you’re sat comfortably and with minimal distractions so there’s nothing putting you off your answers.

Interested in hearing how you can improve getting your key messages across and dealing with those tricky questions? Speak to a member of our award-winning team today to find out how we can support you.