Senior executives are accustomed to being at the top of their game. That’s why it can shake your confidence a bit when you face an important opportunity that’s outside your wheelhouse—like a high stakes media interview.
A chance to tell your story to the media may come at a pivotal moment for your company: if you’re taking the company public or launching a new product, for example. You want to make the most of this opportunity, so proper preparation for the interview is essential.
Even if you don’t expect to find yourself talking to the media on a regular basis, preparing for a media interview helps you learn to be concise and paint pictures without visual aids. These skills are extremely useful for other types of public speaking such as a panel discussion or the Q&A portion of a formal presentation.
Here are some proven tips and best practices for preparing for a media interview, from media strategy and training expert Scott Morgan, author of the book Speaking About Science.
- Decide what you want to talk about
Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure out every question you might be asked. Instead, focus on the message you want to convey. After all, you don’t have control over the questions, but you can control how you respond.
A better way to prepare your content is to decide on a set of individual talking points, which Morgan calls “buckets.” Choose one bucket to address for each minute of interview time, plus a few extra. For example, choose 12 buckets for a 10 minute interview. Now all you have to do is prepare a response for each of your buckets.
During the interview, you’ll need to be an active listener. When you are asked a question, think about the essence of it and look for a connection to one of your bucket points. Think of the question as a springboard to a topic you want to address. Then it’s easier to know how to answer appropriately.
- Prepare for certain questions
That being said, there are a few possible questions you should think about prior to the interview.
In most cases, you can predict the obvious questions an interviewer will ask. Thinking about those provides a window into your interviewer’s thought process, and gives you a chance to connect those questions with one of your buckets in advance.
The other area you may want to consider is controversial or difficult questions. They may or may not come up, but it’s empowering to be ready with a response if they do.
- Speak in imagery
“Seasoned executives deal with big, sweeping ideas: that’s their world,” said Scott. “Yet to shine in a media interview, you need to make those ideas relatable by including vivid examples and stories.”
For each one of your buckets, prepare a concrete example that paints a clear picture to illustrate your point. Examples can be positive or negative, historical or topical, but they must speak to your own experience. If you’re having a hard time coming up with those on your own, go out to your team and ask them to provide you with compelling statistics, anecdotes and data points to include in your answers.
“This is the crux of getting ready for a media interview,” said Scott, “and it’s probably where you’ll spend most of your preparation time.”
- Avoid a litany of statistics
Here is a helpful tip from Scott about using statistics and data as examples: never use more than two numbers in a response.
It’s okay to say “we saw growth from 15 to 49 percent.” But if you say: “we grew from 15 to 49 percent between 2012 and 2016,” now you’ve blurred the picture for the audience and made it harder to follow.
- Aim for a “dinner party” delivery
When rehearsing your delivery, imagine that you are engaging in conversation at a dinner party. That will help you adopt the proper tone and body language. For example:
- Smile and make eye contact
- Avoid talking up or down to the interviewer
- Use a relatively informal tone
- Gesture with your hands to emphasize your points
In fact, you can practice for your interview by talking about your topics at a real dinner party!
- Watch your volume
Always speak at the same vocal volume as your interviewer, or slightly louder. That practice puts you in the seat of expertise. If you speak too softly, you lose authority; if you’re too loud it can distract listeners from what you’re saying.
Learn more from this article: Vocal Delivery: Take Command of Your Voice
- Reboot with each question
If you fail to answer an interviewer’s question to your own satisfaction, resist the urge to go back to that answer later on in the interview. You’ll only waste time rehashing the negative rather than moving forward to something positive. Put that response in the past and move on: treat each new question as a chance to start fresh.
- Prepare a “haymaker” for the conclusion
The ending of the interview is vitally important, since audiences often color their memory of what they see and hear based on how it concludes.
At the end of the interview, you’ll likely be asked a “soft” question that allows you to sum up and close. Instead of finishing with a typical “thank you,” end strong with what I call a haymaker, a knockout sound bite that drives home your key message. Scott recommends coming up with a single word that encapsulates your core message and inspires that all-important final response.
Get more on-camera tips from this article: 12 On-Camera Presentation Tips
When you are fortunate enough to attract media attention to your company’s activities, it’s natural to be excited yet apprehensive at the same time. By taking steps to properly prepare for the interview, you can overcome your nerves and put yourself and your company in the best possible position for success.
Scott Morgan graduated with honors from the University of California, Davis, and authored the book Speaking About Science, published by Cambridge University Press (2006). With over 30 years of broadcast experience, Scott’s bailiwick is media and communication strategy, and he brings a nuanced expertise to his coaching work with Professionally Speaking clients.