GG’s Carla Pisarro shares helpful tips and tricks for preparing for media interviews.
Maybe you’ve agreed to be interviewed by a journalist to promote your new professional project. Or perhaps you’re an expert in your field, and a reporter has asked if you could talk them through shifting trends in your space. Chances are, whether you’re facing your very first media interview or you’ve got several high-profile TV appearances under your belt, you’re a little nervous at the prospect. That’s normal; knowing that your words may be immortalized in print or that your likeness may appear on camera gives pretty much everyone an adrenaline spike. The good news is that interviewing is a skill, meaning you can and will get better at it with practice.
Here are a few of our pointers for preparing for media interviews, for novices and old hands alike.
You’ll often hear PR people talking about the importance of staying on message. By this we mean, you should aim to stick to the messages you want to communicate and pivot back to them repeatedly to make them stick. Whether you have five hours, five days, or five minutes before your interview, spend the time you have in advance thinking about the three key messages you want to communicate to the interview’s audience – and write them down, in your own words. These are your key messages to remember.
It’s common for interview subjects to feel as if they’re about to sit down for an academic test or exam – and that if you get the answer “wrong” or don’t know something, you’ll be marked down. But this isn’t the case. Reporters are looking to learn from you, not to quiz you on your knowledge. It’s totally fine – even encouraged! – to direct them to another source or offer to get back to them separately if you don’t have the information they’re seeking at hand, rather than fake knowledge that you don’t have. Try shifting your perspective: media interviews are opportunities to share the messages you want to get across, regardless of the exact questions you’re asked.
Before any conversation with a reporter, make sure you know the terms you’ll need to set the ground rules. By default, any conversation you have with a reporter is on the record (meaning anything you say can be quoted verbatim) unless you both agree otherwise. If you want to go off the record (meaning what you say cannot be quoted, attributed to you, or used at all unless the reporter sources it elsewhere), you must ask the reporter if you can speak to them off the record, and they must affirmatively agree. Another option is to go on background, meaning the reporter can use the information you share but it can’t be attributed to you. Like going off the record, you must first get a reporter’s explicit verbal agreement before going on background – or your conversation is still technically on the record.
No matter how friendly a reporter or seemingly low-stakes the interview subject, any media appearance can feel like you’re suddenly in a hot seat. And even though it may make you want to cringe, the only way to get comfortable with interviews is to do more of them. We encourage our clients to practice, by running through interview scenarios and possible tough questions in advance. If you have an upcoming television appearance, we recommend practicing on-camera interviews. By recoding yourself, you can pick up on habits or tics you may not know you have — using frequent transitional words like “um” and “ah” is a common one. You can also get the hang of technical skills – like focusing your eye contact on your camera, not your Zoom window – that are especially necessary given the dramatic spike in virtual interviews over the last two-plus years.
You’ve been asked to do an interview for a reason: You have important knowledge to share! So jot down your key messages, practice with your coworkers, and know your media terminology. With each interview you do, it’ll get a little easier – and one day, you may be the one breaking down the day’s major news for us on camera with your favorite evening news anchor.