You don’t need to be Texas Senator Ted Cruz – launched into the media bull’s-eye in a heartbeat – to imagine yourself as the subject of the media “wolf pack.” You could be the chief executive officer of a corporation, or a small business owner, or just your neighborhood soccer mom looking for some local publicity for your team or league. Anyone could at any time find themselves with news cameras and eager reporters asking you questions in rapid-fire succession.
How would you deal with these situations? For the rich and well connected, there are legions of consultants and high-priced strategists that will take your hand – and your check – and lead you to the land where sound bytes all come out perfectly and with the desired effect.
But, if you’re not among the media-trained elite where do you go for help? Based on more than 30 years experience in dealing with the media, here are the top 10 tips to keep in mind.
TOP TEN TIPS
In most cases, the media is working on a very tight deadline. Stories need to be completed online right now, and shortly after that for the evening newscast or tomorrow’s paper. If you want to be oft quoted, answer the media’s call without hesitation.
2. Be Brief
Rarely are reporters on deadline willing to listen to a long-winded explanation of a topic. Be an expert, but be brief. Make a declarative statement, give a short explanation and then wait for the next question. Broadcast news in particular is looking for sound bytes – not the televised version of a classroom lecture.
3. Be Positive and Confident
Demonstrate your expertise in a way that will convince not only the interviewer, but ultimately the audience.Be emphatic and decisive. Showing confidence enhances believability.
Getting the audience to believe what you say has almost as much to do with how you say it as it does what you say. Ignore distractions. Look directly at your interviewer (don’t look at the camera if it’s a television interview) and avoid glancing at objects, people or scenery. Remember, say what you want to say, not what the interviewer wants you to say.
5. Watch Your Emotions
There are good and bad emotions to express or avoid expressing in interviews. The media loves it when they can get an emotional response; it makes for a good story and good visuals. Just make sure the emotion you display works best for you. Some emotion, particularly on television, is good. Be animated; use gestures to emphasize your points (if you’re comfortable doing so). But, don’t act – be natural. Don’t show anger (it can alienate an audience) or be argumentative. In some situations that’s exactly what the interviewer wants. Resist!
6. Speak Up on Camera
Project your voice, enunciate, and speak slowly (FYI – on radio your voice is the only means of communicating, so don’t mumble).
If your television interview is being done with a stationary or standing microphone, maintain the same distance at all times and speak at or across the face of the microphone. Don’t lean over and “touch” the microphone. Stay standing in a natural and upright position. If you’ll use a clip-on or lapel microphone, avoid movements that cause your clothing to brush against the microphone.
7. Don’t Fidget
Gestures are okay on television as long as they are natural, particularly when used to emphasize a point. Otherwise, keep your hands at you side (in a standup interview on camera), or folded in your lap or neatly on a table (in a sit down interview). Don’t put your hands in your pocket, or cross your arms over your chest.
8. Watch the Program or Read the Publication
If there is enough time before the interview to do some quick research about the reporter or the publication, or the broadcast program, do so. Familiarize yourself with the format, pace and the interviewer’s style.
9. Respect Reporters’ Professionalism
Most reporters try hard to follow generally accepted standards of professional conduct. You may not agree with them, but they follow their own guidelines and it’s best if you are familiar with them. Don’t “demand” to check the reporter’s story before it is published or aired. Such requests suggest you don’t trust the reporter’s ability to report accurately. Listen carefully during the interview and ascertain if the reporter clearly understands you point of view or some factual detail. Ask them if you should repeat what you said, or provide them with additional information.
Recognize that “off the record” doesn’t mean your comment or opinion won’t be used, it just won’t be attributed to you. If you don’t want a comment or opinion in print or aired – attributed or not – don’t say it.
10. Be Honest
This may seem obvious, but it is important. When asked a difficult question, reply honestly, even though it may reflect negatively. It only makes matters worse to try and evade, obfuscate or stonewall. If you’ve prepared well for the interview, you should be able to respond to a difficult question (within your field of expertise) with facts that counteract a negative, or which demonstrate how corrective action has already been, or will be taken.
Avoid saying “no comment” or “I can neither confirm nor deny.” The public tends to view this as meaning you know but won’t say. Instead, tell the reporter that you are unable to comment and why. Perhaps there are legal limitations, privacy regulations or personnel rules that prevent you from commenting.
Media interviews can be off-putting, but they don’t need to be and they can be great ways to get your name, your company’s name, or your cause in front of great many people.