Next in our series of blog posts from Group Gordon’s summer interns, Talia Curhan shares her top tips for acing a media interview.
Public speaking in any situation can be nerve-wracking. You have to consider not only the language you use to communicate your message, but also, the signals you’re sending with your body language. Add in camera lights and journalists asking hardball questions, and it’s understandable why even the most experienced spokesperson gets rattled. However, representing yourself well in a media interview is one of the best ways to establish thought leadership and become a reliable source that reporters continue to turn to for expert commentary. During my internship, I picked up a few tricks for handling media interviews. I’ve compiled a list of 5 tips to help you shine during any media opportunity, and to keep your knees from shaking in the process!
Our words matter, but the way we speak—the tone we use and what we emphasize—can completely transform the reception of our message, for better or for worse. You may be sharing exciting news that your nonprofit client received funding for an important initiative, but doing so without emotion can cause your interlocutor to disengage or miss the significance of the news. On the other hand, answering a controversial question with a calm, sincere tone can neutralize a tense exchange.
More concretely, focus on how you deliver each piece of information. If you’ve completed a sentence, take a breath before starting the next—it will allow your brain to quickly reset and evaluate where to go next. For on-camera interviews, your body language communicates just as much as your spoken language. Sit naturally, but convey confidence by keeping your back straight, opening up to the speaker, and maintaining eye contact as you speak.
Sounding overly scripted can negatively impact an interview—reporters want quotes that are authentic and showcase your knowledge and experience. Maintaining a natural, conversational tone during a media interview can keep the focus on the substance of your answers and lead to a deeper and more meaningful exchange with the interviewer. It can also increase the chances that you’ll be called on by the reporter in the future.
One of the best ways to cultivate a natural flow during an interview is to practice communicating your key points conversationally. Recruit a colleague or ask your media training team to do a mock interview with you so that you can practice delivering your talking points and fleshing out your ideas. As you practice, avoid using jargon and clarify all your concepts to ensure that you and the interviewer stay on the same page. When you’re in front of the camera or tape recorder, you may only have one shot to articulate your message, so it’s important to know the points you want to hit. The more you verbalize your ideas, the clearer they can become in your mind and the easier they will be to deliver.
Don’t count on every question being a softball. Your interviewer will likely try and press you on certain subjects. Especially with media, it’s always best to be equipped with answers to the trickier or more sensitive, “please don’t ask me this” questions. Think about the tough questions you might be asked and practice how you’d handle being put on the spot. One of the most crucial parts of an interview is being honest, even if that means saying, “I don’t know.” Telling a reporter that you need to check on an answer but will follow up with them, is always better than an unpracticed or uncertain response. Then, you can pivot to a concept that you do feel comfortable addressing. You only have to spend time talking about what you came to talk about.
Having an overall purpose for the interview can help you stay on message and keep the conversation focused around your expertise. In a media interview, it may seem as if the interviewer has control of the conversation—including taking the conversation off-topic. When this happens, an easy way to re-center the dialogue is to incorporate one of your main points into your answer and guide the conversation back into your lane. We like to call this tactic, “neutralize and bridge”: neutralize the negative or off-topic frame, and bridge to one of your key points. Phrases like, “well, that’s just part of the story, but what we do know is…” or “perhaps an equally important issue here is…” can lead the discussion back into your area of knowledge. If you find yourself going off track, finish your thought. By pausing, your silence indicates that it’s time to move forward.
Most importantly, be yourself! Viewers, listeners, and readers will connect more with a real person than with someone who sounds too robotic or clinical. The interview is a space for you to share about your work, accomplishments, or expertise – all things you likely care deeply about. Consider sharing a few brief anecdotes that bring your messages to life in a way that’s still on-topic.
BONUS TIP (from my mom!): Before you enter the interview, smile to yourself and say, “I got this!” Smiling releases positive hormones, and the phrase puts you in a confident mindset. Daughter tested, mother approved: it works every time!