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It’s a Presentation, Not an Interview

Some spokespeople worry there’s little they can control during media interviews. They’re wrong.

When spokespeople do their jobs correctly, a considerable amount of the interview is spent teaching—giving explanations and providing background to help reporters understand both the story and its context. If the topic is extremely complex or if reporters need more depth, “teaching time” might be half the interview.

If you help reporters do their jobs, not only will you have a more positive experience, but over time, you will gain a reputation as a “great interview.” This can pay big dividends later when reporters seek you out—giving you many additional chances to highlight your organization’s key messages with target audiences.

Talking to reporters is not when you should demonstrate your command of complex terminology or industry buzzwords. Leave your jargon at the door and speak like you’re talking to a college freshman who is taking a 101-level class in a topic that’s unrelated to their major. Keep the language plain, simple and direct. Why? Because you’re not really talking to reporters—you’re talking to the readers and viewers at home.

Let’s be clear about what a media interview is:

A news interview is not a deposition or an inquisition, and it’s not a mere question-and-answer session.

It’s an opportunity to present your key messages.

There are five steps to preparation:

  1. Research the reporter’s work. Not only will you be better prepared, the reporters will appreciate when you refer to things you saw or read.
  2. Learn how to question reporters in advance, helping them define the scope of the interview and fencing off other types of questions. You would never agree to make a speech without knowing the topic and the audience’s interests, right? So why would you agree to a media interview without knowing the same things?
  3. Decide what you will discuss, and vet it with colleagues. What are the key messages you want the audience to remember? What headline do you want to see on the story?
  4. Develop sound bites, along with powerful examples and proof points. Everyone remembers “Read my lips, no new taxes” or “I have a dream” or “It’s the economy, stupid.” These catchy phrases don’t happen spontaneously—they’re carefully crafted. When journalists hear good sound bites or great examples and proof points, that information will likely land in the news coverage. That means you just tipped the scales in your favor.
  5. Rehearse. What reads well on paper may not communicate effectively when spoken. That’s why the final and most critical step in preparation is to translate your organization’s key messages into your own, natural words. You must look and sound like you truly believe in what you’re saying and avoid sounding scripted. And to keep the reporters’ attention, you need to summarize your point in fewer than 20 seconds, or your message may be too muddled.

Remember: Your job is to get your key messages delivered to the audience. If those messages are not used in the story, you wasted a valuable opportunity.