More media interview tips

Published on September 20, 2009 by in Media training

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By Jennigay Coetzer

Be seen as an authority on the topic

When being interviewed by a journalist or other media interviewer on a specific topic or market trend, don’t allow your views to blatantly focus on your company or products if you want to be seen as an authoritative industry spokesperson. Leave this for when you have provided the value the journalist is looking for.

When the opportunity does arise to bring in marketing messages, drop them in subtly and then go back to being an authority on the topic being discussed.

Discussing challenges and issues often provides fertile ground for introducing solutions. Have a few generic or customer examples up your sleeve of how these solutions can or have provided desirable results. Examples are useful for putting viewpoints into context.

Go with the flow

Go with the flow rather than make comments such as, “As I explained before…” If you have mentioned the point previously, the journalist probably did not absorb what you said, was not ready to discuss it at the time and discarded the information, or perhaps you were speaking to fast.

Also remember that journalists assimilate information as they are taking notes and discard unwanted details or information that is not relevant to the current line of questioning or that they are not ready to absorb as they move on from one point to the next. So speak at a conversational pace.

When the spokesperson speaks too fast, it puts the journalist under pressure and can result in a fragmented article due to having wiped out his or her short term memory by rushing onto another point too quickly.

Don’t be vague by starting with comments such as “I think,” “I feel….,” etc. Take a strong position as an authority on the subject and speak as an industry spokesperson. For example, “The market is expected to grow by……,” “This is an indication that….,” “A better approach is to…….,” and so on.

Don’t get personal

Don’t get into personal mode by making comments that start with “In my personal opinion….” or relating a personal experience or that of a friend/colleague. A spokesperson should be speaking on behalf of the company and not putting forward personal views and should refer to “We” or  “Our” wherever possible and not “I.”

Don’t make a statement like “I read in a recent article that….,” etc. This will not give the journalist confidence in the substance of the knowledge you are imparting.

Avoid industry jargon – it gets in the way of the value being delivered and can come across as arrogant and patronising. Imagine you are speaking to the lowest common denominator of the media interviewer’s audience and consider what they would be interested in knowing.

Be more specific

Don’t make vague references to “they,” when “they” could be a customer, supplier, business partner, channel reseller partner, etc. Be more specific and spell out who it is you are referring to. Anything that is open to interpretation can be misinterpreted.

When responding to questions, never say you don’t know, and don’t try to wing it, otherwise the media interviewer will lose confidence in you as a spokesperson. Have a strategy in mind for dealing with questions you are not equipped to respond to with confidence.

Similarly, if pushed for information such as a statistic, a date, a time frame or the spelling of a name you do not have at your fingertips, avoid a response like “I don’t know,” or “I am not sure.” Rather say something like “Can I e-mail you that information/ figure/ date later today?” and be sure to deliver on your promise, even if it means doing some research.

When preparing for the interview, anticipate the type of questions that could be asked and have a strategy in mind for dealing with curved balls the journalist might throw at you and for when you don’t know the answer to a question.

The importance of media training

Media training will help spokespeople to hone their skills in relation to interacting with journalists and other media interviewers, including acquiring interview techniques like those outlined above. The better their interview techniques the more respect spokespeople will gain from the media and the more opportunities for interviews will come their way.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist with 25 years experience. She  has run more than 150 media training workshops and writing skills workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions. She can be contacted on +27-(0)83-212-5754 or jennigay@icon.co.za.


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