4 ways to seize control of any interview

The journalist conducting the sit-down doesn’t have all the power. Here are four techniques for staying on message no matter how tough or far afield the questions get.

It’s a common misperception that journalists are solely responsible for crafting an interview.

Many executives relinquish control, only to suffer later from “interview remorse.” They wonder why the resulting article didn’t include the details they felt were important, or they regret the positioning of the company or product.

This remorse often stems directly from the interviewee’s disappointment that the journalist didn’t ask pertinent questions. The spokesperson will complain that the reporter “didn’t get it” or “doesn’t understand the space” instead of taking responsibility for educating the interviewer and driving the conversation.

Here are four ways to flip the script and drive better interviews:

1. Have an agenda.

Ask yourself:

  • Why are you participating in this interview?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Why are this media outlet and its audience important to you and your company?

Every interview is both an opportunity and a risk. To be prepared you must know the reporter, know his or her work, know the outlet, know its audience and, most important, know what you want to achieve.

2. Establish clear, concise messages.

Once you have your agenda, identify your top three messages. These elements should be woven into the interview and will serve as the key indicators of success.

Think in terms of what you want folks to remember about our company or product, such as an article headline or the teaser to a broadcast story.

3. Drive the interview process.

Typically, there are multiple opportunities to set the path beforehand. During this preparation period you can skillfully and politely let the reporter know what you would like to discuss and the three key messages you’d like to cover.

Don’t be afraid, even in the middle of the interview, to politely steer the discussion back on track if the interview is going off course.

For example, if the reporter asks about something off message, you can answer the question and then transition by saying, “What I really think is important for your readers to know is…” and land your point.

At the end of any interview you can usually recap. Most reporters will ask whether there is anything else you want to say. Repeat those key messages and emphasize their importance to cement their inclusion in the final article or segment.

4. Don’t be led astray.

Journalists ask probing questions, in part to get a juicy quote or sound bite.

Sometimes that entails asking an executive about a competitor. Before the exec realizes it, 20 minutes of airtime has been wasted talking about other companies and their products.

Don’t fall into this trap.

Answer the question—naming a couple of top competitors that you want to be compared to—and get back to your agenda. In situations when you might not want to comment on a topic or brewing controversy, you can politely say it’s not your area of expertise or that you’d prefer to focus on “X.”

A good spokesperson is knowledgeable about the company, its products and the market. A great spokesperson knows how to convey that knowledge in a compelling and effective manner to a journalist and get the desired result—an article or segment that perfectly positions the company and its message.

Sandra Fathi is the president of Affect.

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