4 signs of imminent interview failure

Keep a sharp eye out for these warning signals of a reporter tête-à-tête gone wrong—and work to right the ship before it’s too late.


If you’ve ever hung up the phone with a reporter and felt completely in the dark about how the interview went, you’re not alone.

Don’t fret, though. You can learn how to tune into reporters’ telltale clues and rescue your interview before it’s over.

Reporters are as human as you or me. Learning to pay attention to their subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) physical and vocal cues will allow you to work on your responses and messaging and keep your interviewer more interested and engaged.

Here are four warning signs to look out for:

1. The reporter cuts you off.

We all love to hear ourselves talk, and we think the product or service our organization offers is the most interesting thing on the planet. Who wouldn’t want to hear you explain each nuance for 20 minutes straight without taking a breath?

Reporters are usually in a hurry, though, and they appreciate nothing more than succinct answers that cut to the chase. They’re looking for pearls of wisdom and enticing sound bites.

If the reporter cuts you off mid-answer, you’re probably rambling on too long. Practice your answers to potential questions beforehand and work on trimming the fluff. Offer your key messaging points first, not after a long-winded buildup.

2. The reporter has no follow-up questions.

You’ve just divulged some major news or explained the most exciting aspect of your organization’s work, but the seemingly unengaged reporter bulldozes right along. This should tell you one of two things:

Your response was overly complicated and the reporter didn’t understand the concept well enough to come up with a worthwhile follow-up question, or you didn’t explain why the exciting tidbit you just divulged is new, important or groundbreaking.

In the first scenario, unless you are speaking to another expert from your industry, the reporter is probably hoping to write a more generally accessible story. Using industry jargon and complicated lingo is a great way to lose someone’s attention.

The second issue is also common; we know our organization is doing something incredible and groundbreaking, and we assume other people just get it. They probably don’t.

Don’t be afraid to paint the picture for them. Reporters don’t write stories on organizations that are doing what everyone else is doing. They want to know what sets yours apart in a big way. Make it clear.

3. The reporter is looking away or distracted.

This applies to in-person interviews or video calls. If your interviewer is scrolling through emails, checking out chipped nail polish or otherwise distracted, pay attention. You want their eyes to be in one of two places: on you or on their notes.

If you see a reporter’s attention drifting away, try wrapping up your answer quickly and turning the tables. Ask a question to re-engage the reporter. Something simple, like, “Would you like me to explain ____ again?” or, “Did that answer your question?” could be enough to bring him or her back to the conversation.

4. The reporter never publishes the story or uses your comments.

The ultimate letdown: You talk to a reporter for 40 minutes in what you thought was a rousing conversation, but you never see your name or organization mentioned in any articles.

Revisit the problems we’ve already discussed. Was the story you told really groundbreaking and exciting? Did you make the subject matter easy to understand so an “educated generalist” could digest it and take away something new? Did you present the key messages clearly?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to the reporter (or have your PR team connect) to find out why the story didn’t run and ask for a follow-up conversation. The answer may be “No,” but there’s no harm in offering to clarify your answers or proposing a new topic.

The above scenarios may leave your ego a bit bruised, but you can use them as learning experiences. Practice makes perfect with interview skills, and we’re all bound to suffer a few failures as we work our way to becoming seasoned veterans.

Talk through your experiences with your PR team and make a mental note of what to change next time around. These improvements are the best way to become an in-demand source for journalists, highlighting your organization in a way that will keep your boss and investors smiling.

Nikki Arnone is a PR pro at sspr.com. A version of this post first appeared on Commpro.

Topics: PR

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