Appearing as an informed source in magazine articles, online interviews or even on your local TV news can be a great way to build credibility. But not everyone has innate media interview skills. Here’s some helpful ideas for turning your time in the spotlight into a memorable — and hopefully recurring — experience.
Getting quoted in the news media, whether it be print, radio, web or TV, is a great way to build your credibility and business. Getting a reporter or writer to call is only the first step, though — if you botch the interview, the reporter is unlikely to quote you or call you again. Here are 10 tips to help you do well with media interviews.
1. Be professional. You wouldn’t show up late for a sales call, and you wouldn’t take a phone call or start checking your e-mail during a client meeting. Those behaviors aren’t acceptable when dealing with the media, either. If you’re seeking out media attention, approach interviews with the same professionalism as any business meeting. Be punctual and don’t keep the reporter waiting on the phone or in person. Eliminate potential distractions, like your cell phone or e-mail alerts that might pop up during the interview, so you can stay focused.
2. Use a landline. Some of my sources insist on using their cell phone or a voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) technology, like Skype, for the interview. Apart from the safety issues of talking while driving, the problem with cell and VOIP calls is the voice quality is unpredictable. At times, I can’t be sure exactly what the source on these calls is saying, which makes me hesitant to quote them. If you want to be sure your message comes across clearly, use only landlines for your phone or radio show interviews.
3. Prep but don’t overdo it. Occasionally, a reporter on a tight deadline calls you seeking an interview immediately. In most cases, you can ask for a callback, and I strongly recommend you do so. Make the most of that time by asking the writer for details about the story: theme, angle, etc. That information helps you focus your thoughts and lets you jot down any key points you want to convey. Don’t over-prep or your responses sound canned. I’ve had several sources write their comments out before the phone interview and then read those comments to me verbatim. I can tell because their language is stilted, plus I often hear them turning the pages or tapping their computer’s keys as they read. Writers want conversational quotes, not speeches, so limit your preparation to notes, instead of full-blown text.
4. Back up your opinions. A good response to an interview question combines your opinion with supporting facts. For instance, if you’re asked about investing if there is a double dip in the economy, it’s not enough to say you don’t believe we’ll see a double dip. A more useful response — and one that’s more likely to be quoted — backs up that opinion with economic stats, a historical perspective and so on. This is another good reason to ask for a callback — the extra time lets you do some quick research.
5. Don’t lecture. There’s a difference between responding with sufficient detail and burying the writer with a longwinded answer. I’ve had some sources go on for so long I’ve forgotten the original question. Interviews should be like conversations with a prospect or client with a natural flow of question, response, follow-up, etc. Pay attention to your responses, so you don’t monopolize the conversation.
6. Don’t try to fake it. Never claim expertise you lack. If the reporter is seeking information about a subject with which you lack familiarity, just say so. You might think that a quick Google search gives you what you need, but it’s likely the reporter has seen that material and is also talking to genuine experts, as well. If he or she thinks you’re trying to fake expertise in the hope of being quoted, your credibility is shot.
7. Stay “on the record.” When you correspond or speak with a writer, it’s on the record. Everything you say may end up in print or on the air, unless you specify your comments are off the record before you make them. In other words, you can’t state something and then tell the reporter that was meant to be off the record — it’s too late. The simplest solution is to assume everything you say or write is on the record and can be published and attributed to you.
8. Make a good impression. Avoid using filler words, like “umm” and “like” or expressions such as “you know.” Tape yourself doing mock interviews to help you work on avoiding those phrases. If you’re doing TV interviews, your appearance is critical. You want to convey an image of professional competence and trustworthiness, not an excess of fashion sense. If you plan to appear on TV regularly, hiring a media coach for some wardrobe tips and interview training can be a smart move.
9. Relax, but stay alert. Some sources are so nervous I can hear the quiver in their voices. Others are so relaxed they babble about anything that pops into their heads. Practice and subject expertise are the best solutions to getting over nerves, but even when you’re confident, be mindful of what you’re saying and doing. Regardless of your relationship with the reporter, stay focused and on point. Remember: You’re on the record.
10. Don’t pester the reporter. Don’t ask the reporter or editor to send you a copy of the text before submitting it, so you can proof it. That request insults the writer and frequently violates the publication’s policies. Also, being interviewed does not guarantee you’ll be cited in the story. The writer might not quote you, or the editor could cut your comments from the story. And don’t hound the writer after the interview for a published copy of the story. Most writers work on multiple articles simultaneously, and magazine articles often run two to three months after the interviews. It’s fine to ask the writer when he believes the story will run, but if you’re eager to see your name in print, it’s up to you to check for the article’s publication.