Interview

Media interviews can be as daunting for some as going to the dentist but they needn’t be so long as you are properly prepared, writes Niall Quinn of The Reputations Agency.

Some are born media performers with an innate sense of what is required for a successful interview by engaging with the audience and communicating with ease, but for the majority media training is necessary to make the most of interview opportunities and mitigate against the potential reputational damage of doing a poor interview. With a little investment in time and training, not only can interviews be managed effectively but they can be leveraged as a highly effective way to engage with large audiences.

Before starting any media training assignment I always ask participants how much time they would spend preparing a presentation on a topic for a small group of colleagues. That’s followed by ascertaining what level of preparation they would undertake if given the opportunity to address a capacity crowd at Lansdowne Road at half time on match day. Not surprisingly, a response referencing a significant amount of time is forthcoming. This discussion serves as an important way of helping those being trained to visualise the scale of potential media audiences and why preparation is so important – and that’s before I tell them that RTE Radio One’s flagship programme, Morning Ireland, attracts a listenership of almost ten times a packed sports stadium!

Media training is a form of communications training so, as you would expect, much of the focus is on content and conveying it clearly and succinctly to key audiences. Although each interview will vary depending upon factors such as format, audience and location, basic techniques for more effective media interviews can be learned. With preparation and practice you can become a more effective communicator. As the golfer Gary Player once said, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the dos and don’ts it is important to understand the dynamics of media interviews – media coverage isn’t provided for the sake of it and journalists need content that is interesting, engaging and newsworthy. For broadcast interviews there is limited time – sometimes only minutes to get content across – so it is important to have that in the back of interviewees’ minds at all times.

Confidence, control and credibility

For any media engagement to be effective it is important to achieve confidence, control and credibility. Confidence will provide a platform from which you can engage at least as an equal participant to the interviewer while control will allow clear communication of your message. Finally, credibility is essential to ensure the audience believes what you have to say.

The concept of control includes controlling your demeanour, your presentation, your language so that you can confidently assert your agenda or point of view, otherwise the interviewer will have to work harder or worse use any vacuum to steer an interview towards an area where you are not sufficiently prepared for or don’t want to address.

It’s crucial therefore to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve from each interview and given the limited time available keep the messages clear and concise. In real terms if you can convey three simple messages in a clear, concise and confident manner that will be considered a success. It’s better to leave your audience with three points they'll recall than to overload them with a broad range of content they won't remember. Indeed, given most broadcast interviews last no more than a few minutes you’ll be surprised how quickly the time goes and the challenge it is to get those three messages across within the time available.

Messaging

Getting the message right is a crucial – a simple narrative that creates awareness and understanding is key. Distilling an issue to three key messages takes time and effort but becomes a test in its own right by which preparation can be judged, as even the most complex of issues can be simplified to three key messages. If you haven’t been able to achieve this, it can be an indication that you haven’t put sufficient effort into message refinement.

Messages should be brief along the lines of "sound bites", preferably no longer than one sentence and tailored appropriately to the audience. Key messages might be different depending on whether you are seeking to reach the general public rather than a business audience so consider what each audience needs to understand and match the content accordingly.

Messaging is not only important to convey information but also as a mechanism to build credibility as making messaging believable is critical to the successful outcome of any interview. By citing an experience, demonstrating a command of the facts, using personal experiences or anecdotes will help build credibility in what you say.

Interviewer as conduit, not the audience

One challenge that inexperienced interviewees regularly grapple with is confusing the interviewer with the audience and in doing so can miss the purpose of the media interview in the first place – to communicate effectively with the ultimate audience. The dynamic of one-to-one interviews can make this difficult as it can feel like a two-way conversation but it is essential to speak as if you are addressing the audience directly.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

With any media training assignment the theory is just the starting point and it is only through practice that learnings are put into action and mistakes can be ironed out.  There’s no easy way than to run the gauntlet of a mock interview and through playback review the performance. In all my training assignments I’ve never met anyone who has enjoyed interview playback. However, once the initial awkwardness passes it works as a valuable exercise to analyse strengths and weaknesses and identify where improvements need to be made. Even after a few dry runs performances can improve significantly and you will be better placed to perform strongly when the microphone or camera goes live. 

General tips for preparing for a media interview:

Understand the dynamics of each interview – who’s interviewing, what areas do they like to cover and what’s the context in which the interview is being undertaken. Also, be aware of how long the interview will be.

Prepare content and messaging and keep it simple – use language you are comfortable with and speak in short sentences.

Prepare likely questions ensuring any tough questions are anticipated and appropriate responses fully considered.

Avoid using jargon or technical terms as it can alienate an audience.

Make content engaging – try to use analogies or examples to clarify a topic or subject – even the complexities of tax and forensic accounting can be made accessible and relevant to audiences using relevant examples.

Don’t mistake the interviewer for your audience.

Practice, review and refine – make your mistakes in practice sessions, review content with colleagues, family and friends – they’ll spot things you can’t, test drive your messaging for simplicity and once it’s right give you the confidence to do a really successful interview.

  Niall Quinn, Deputy Managing Director at The Reputations Agency

Niall Quinn is Deputy Managing Director and Head of the Corporate Advisory Practice at The Reputations Agency. In addition to his Corporate PR, strategy and stakeholder communications work, Niall provides both routine media training and prepares clients for high-profile media engagements during issues and crisis communications assignments. He has qualified as a barrister and is an immediate past-president of Public Relations Institute of Ireland. Niall can be contacted at The Reputations Agency on (01) 661 8915 or niall@thereputationsagency.ie

 

 

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