Nothing prepares an executive for an interview with a reporter like—an interview with a reporter.
As a reporter and the senior strategist at BlissPR, I have done some of the media training for our firm’s clients. It is the best of both worlds for me. I get to appease my insatiable curiosity and learn new things without having to write a compelling story on deadline. What could be better?
In a recent media training session with four senior executives, I came away with a few nuggets of knowledge that might be helpful to those who need to help corporate leaders be more effective in front of the press.
1. Drill down
As the leader of the training session, you’ll attend the session prepared with a series of questions that reflect what the reporters will ask. But let me tell you a secret—rarely does a reporter follow a list of questions during an interview.
Sure, we journalists send a smattering of questions to the communications vice president so she can prep the executive for the interview, but the truth is, we really conduct interviews by the seat of our pants.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re prepared and will use the questions as a guideline for the interview but, more often or not, we stray. The interviewee will say something to pique our interest, and we’ll be off running in another direction.
That is what happened when I trained some executives a few weeks ago. I had my list of questions and asked only one. The rest of the time I drilled down into the answer from my first question. It was there that I found a couple of story ideas, not from my list of questions.
2. Lead with the positive
Always lead with the positive when you critique your executive. Senior leaders are at the top of their game in their areas of expertise but, in most cases, dealing with the media isn’t one of them.
Interviews with the media isn’t usually at the top of their to do lists because such interactions cause worry, anxiety and self-doubt. Even if your executive was horrible, find something positive to say.
Did she exhibit good posture? Did she make good points? Was she witty? After you’ve encouraged her, make suggestions that can lead to better interviews. Be concise and give no more than three quick tips.
3. Ask for questions
At the end of each training session, make sure you leave time for the executive to ask you questions. This is where I think the executive finds the most value.
Executives have asked me the most basic questions that I never thought to answer in the training session. For example, one woman asked me if she should always wear a blazer on TV, and what color it should be. Another question I heard was how to best handle an aggressive reporter who won’t let you finish the answer to a question.
Above all, let the executive know that the reporter desperately needs him for the story. In some cases, he may be just as nervous as the executive.