Businesspeople often mistakenly assume that because they know their companies, industries and products so well, they can handle a media interview. But even the most sure-footed spokesman can bomb an interview when he doesn’t plan properly. A little media training goes a long way, and you should consider it an investment in yourself.
Here are 10 tips that will prevent you from stumbling and making a poor impression in your next interview:
1. Make a plan for the interview.
What would you like to see in the resulting media coverage? What two or three key messages do you want to relay?
If you go into an interview and just answer questions without a thought for what you want the audience to know, you yield control of the interview to the journalist. Be prepared and know in advance what your goals are for the interview.
2. Ask the question you want to answer.
Don’t wait for the reporter to ask the question you want to answer. She might not ask it. Instead, segue into the topic you want to discuss. For example:
- “What really matters is ______.”
- “The most important issue is ______.”
- “The more interesting question is ______.”
3. Avoid technical answers.
When you talk above people’s heads, you drive them away. Answer as simply as possible, and without jargon.
4. Stick to what the reporter asks and what you want to say.
There’s no need to volunteer additional information. This goes back to planning what your goals are for the interview. You should know what you’d like to communicate from the start, and stick to that information as much as possible.
More is not better; answer questions briefly. When you give long-winded answers, you give the journalist the power to choose which parts of your answer to use and omit.
5. If you don’t know the answer, just say so.
There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know, that there hasn’t been a decision yet or that you aren’t sure of the answer and will report back.
We had a client some years ago who didn’t tell us he was going to meet with reporters on a business trip to another country. He had a plan for the interview, but it was a misguided plan at best.
He intended to talk about his company’s expansion into a different country. Quite naturally, the journalists wanted to know about his company’s expansion in their country—not somewhere else. As it turned out, there was no concrete plan to expand in their country. Our client didn’t want to lose face by not having an answer to the question, so he made one up: “Well, ABC is a very good place. So is XYZ.”
The reporters took his answer to mean that the company planned to expand into both countries, and they dutifully took notes and went back to write their stories. The next day, stories in several newspapers alluded to the company’s plans to expand in ABC and XYZ. Our client was, to say the least, very upset.
6. Don’t say “no comment.”
There are very few exceptions to this rule. When you say “no comment,” you almost always look like you’re hiding something. Anticipate difficult questions, and plan an answer that won’t hurt you. It’s your PR team’s job to prep for such questions, with your input, of course.
7. Don’t repeat a negative question.
There’s no reason to needlessly hurt yourself by repeating a negative question. Simply answer it briefly and bridge to what you want to say.
8. Watch for “gotcha questions.”
Gotcha questions are loaded questions that paint you negatively no matter how you answer. The trick is to answer as briefly as possible, and create a bridge from the negative question to the message you want to convey.
For example, say a reporter asks, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Answer with, “I never started.”
Think about it: If you answer, “I didn’t beat my wife,” the headline could easily be, “X denies beating his wife.” This is also an example of why you don’t want to repeat something negative.
9. Have facts to back up your points.
If you can provide facts and cite the sources, you’ll sound much more credible.
10. Don’t ask to approve the story before it’s published.
This will make you look unprofessional. Journalists will sometimes fact-check information with you, so you can volunteer to be available for any further questions or fact-checks if the journalist wishes.
To perform well in an interview, practice makes perfect. Professional media training will help you hone your messages, answer difficult questions and practice speaking in front of an audience.
If you can’t get professional help, at least practice in front of a mirror. It’s also helpful to have someone record your answers on video so you can watch yourself and critique your answers and facial expressions.
Lucy Siegel is president and CEO of Bridge Global Strategies. A version of this article originally appeared on the company blog.