Great interviews don’t just happen. They have years of training behind them. While some people are naturally outgoing, have great interview instincts, and can pull off successful interviews with little training, that isn’t the case for most people. And, even after years of training, there are those who need constant work and still get jitters even after a lot of experience.
My friend and neighbor, Willard Scott from the Today Show has said numerous times that, in all of the years he was on TV, he never got over being nervous. I’ve watched him over the years and, although his nerves may have persisted, his on-camera abilities improved dramatically. Experience is the key to great interviews and practicing the necessary skills is a must.
Take every opportunity to practice. You can do this by doing interviews with your local television station, being interviewed on small podcasts, doing interviews with your local print and online reporters, and meeting with key influencers.
There are a few basic skills that are key to general interviews.
Good speaking skills are important for all aspects of business, and everyone benefits from developing great communication skills. While writing skills are equally important, you can’t hide behind a laptop and expect to have successful media placements or great interviews. If you want press coverage, you must not only be able to successfully pitch and communicate your story to media, you also need to deliver a great interview.
Speaking in front of groups is helpful in honing interview skills. You can practice eliminating junk verbiage (“uhms,” and “ahs,” etc.). These are distracting in interviews. You’ll also learn how to speak concisely. Toast Masters is still around in communities across the United States. They hold meetings in the evenings and at lunch time so that working participants can get there. It’s an opportunity to stand up in front of strangers and talk about something important to you. It provides a chance for you to hone your speaking skills, remove junk verbiage and begin to feel comfortable in front of an audience.
Practicing actual interviews is very important, and it is important that you don’t know the questions— it’s best to learn to think on the spot. Do make sure you’ve prepared a list of possible questions and answers in advance and then listen to the interviewer and think before you speak. While some stories can be corrected before they run, it’s better to work hard at not making mistakes.
While one- or two-word answers are not acceptable and make it very hard on the interviewer, you must get your key messages down into concise sound bites. Rambling during interviews is just as frustrating to reporters as one or two-word answers. Your key messages should be concise and to the point, and they should also answer the question.
Practice at home, practice driving to work, practice during any down time. Have your children, spouse or a friend record you with their phone. Review the video honestly, make note of things you can improve and continue to practice.
So many people go into interviews with pre-conceived ideas on what they’re going to say. While you should have practiced—written down potential questions and practiced the answers, the interviewer may ask a question you haven’t thought about.
A breaking news story may have prompted a different question, or the interviewer may ask a question you’ve thought of but in a different way. Don’t be thrown by the questions. If you’ve practiced all possibilities and you’re trained to think and answer on the fly, listen to the reporter and answer his/her specific question. You can always bridge a response that goes back to your key messaging by answering the question but adding, “what’s important to remember though is…,” or “let me put it this way…,” or “keep in mind that.…” By bridging, you’re basically answering the reporter’s question and steering the interview back to what you’d like to talk about.
If you’re speaking to a physicians’ magazine, a journal, or an industry outlet, it’s fine to speak technically; however, if you’re doing an interview with a general interest outlet, you have to speak in laymen’s terms and avoid jargon and technical terms. You don’t want your message to get lost or so overwhelm the reporter that the story never runs.
Do your homework prior to the interview so you understand the audience as well as what the reporter typically covers and what areas of interest he or she has. If you find out that the reporter is a consumer or investigative reporter, the interview is going to be very different than a simple education piece. If you can’t find everything you need on the reporter, contact him or her in advance and ask. Tell the reporter that you want to be prepared and make the best use of his or her time. You can ask for e-mail questions in advance. They may or may not be able to do this but it’s at least worth the ask.
After the interview, feel free to follow up. If you made a misstatement, correct it immediately. If there was a question you couldn’t answer, get back to the reporter as soon as possible with the answer.
Once the interview has run, feel free to thank the reporter. It’s a good way to follow up and maintain a positive relationship. If you’re not happy with the interview, follow up with whatever was inaccurate. Do not provide negative input over minor things that went wrong.
Remember, maintaining a good relationship is key to ongoing coverage. Berating a reporter or getting angry over a bad interview isn’t in the best interest of the interviewee. Remember that for many viewers, listeners or readers, they may not recognize the inaccuracy. If there’s a blatant error that is significant, ask to have it corrected immediately.
If the inaccuracy is marginal, constructively point out to the reporter what was wrong or incorrect and leverage the interview to learn where you could have improved. Reach out to the reporter to see if he/she might do a follow up in the near future or pitch another story that will provide an opportunity for the interview you want to see.
Use the interview to your best advantage as social media content. You can write a lead-in that identifies any problems you see with the interview or has your corrections. The fact that the news media is interviewing you lends a lot of credibility to your patient base and your stakeholders.