Telling the truth about SME life today

Top 10 tips for media interviews

Don’t try and win the argumentMuch of business life is about arguing the case, making the deal, negotiating. Your time frame for these types of activities is much longer that the average media interview. Instead of looking to win over the journalist with your force of argument, accept that this is just a transaction of information between two parties. How clear and compelling you are in the interview maximises your chances of being heard, being used by the media and being remembered by your audience.Mind your languageIf your answer is not interesting then you may lose your audience, whether they are reading or listening to your interview. Focus on using active verbs, real life examples or anecdotes to make your responses interesting and compelling. It is essential that you keep people’s attention. Remember why you started in business in the first place, what makes you passionate and why people should care about what you and your company are doing. Make is personal and it makes it more believable rather than just trotting out corporate-speak.Avoid technical jargonFor many people this is their comfort zone and under pressure it is easy to fall back into company language or what you know best or are comfortable talking about. Try to be user-friendly and make yourself as easy to understand as possible.

Second-guess the mediaIt is a given that you know your field, sector or company and there is only a certain number of questions the interviewer can ask. This is not Dante’s Inferno or Groundhog Day: the interview will start and finish in a set amount of time. You need to transmit your expertise in context and engage with the reader or interviewer, telling your story or explain your views and insights. Anticipate what you think you’ll be asked so nothing comes as a shock. It’s all in the preparation. Also use the time before the interview to talk to the journalist and see how much they know about you or the company. This helps you warm up before the start of the interview and breaks the ice. Remember you wouldn’t drive a car with a cold engine so why should you sit there in silence before the interview starts?

Speak in ThreesForget using “firstly, secondly, thirdly” because the answer will be too long and in editing the article the journalist may miss or cut out the third point which will make the answer more confusing in print or broadcast. Instead use, “It’s good for X, good for Y and good for Z” or “It’s bad for X, bad for Y and bad for Z.”Get straight to the point – and put your answers in context.Always start with your key message framed around such a phrase as “what’s central” or “the issue is” which flags to all that this is worth paying attention to. It also helps the journalists when they are going over their notes after the interview to flag points that you feel are vital and need to be communicated and will hopefully end up being reported.

Remember NoddyDo not nod when you’re being asked a question by the interviewer. From your point of view, it’s a signal that says, “Yes. I am understanding what you are saying" when instead it could look like agreement of their question or point of view.

Be a swanIt is vital that you stay calm and don’t lose your temper, irrespective of how you are treated. You will always come off looking worse and you’ll lose the audience. There is nothing like being cut off during a radio interview in mid-rant, however valid your feelings. Also, don’t view the media as the enemy, they are in fact a key channel for promoting your company or brand. Help them do their job. A calm exterior is central to this.

After the interviewYou may have finished speaking and it may be the end of the interview but now your guard is down. You feel like you’ve survived and you start to relax. At this point the journalist is still pumping you for information. From the moment the phone rings to the moment the journalist leaves your company be prepared for anything that comes out of your mouth potential ending up in print, unless you point out that what you say is, "off the record". Whatever you say you should be comfortable reading or hearing that in the public domain.

Finally if you remember only one thing from these tips then focus on the following:

Three words a second and three points onlyWe talk at this speed during our conversations and with the average radio or TV sound bite being 15 seconds long – you only have 45 words to play with in your answer. Start using this template for your answers and you’ll become a more pithy and focused communicator and interviewee. Also do not try and repeat every key message or point your in-house corporate communications team have given you when you were preparing for the interview. We are all human and the exercise is not repetition but engagement so pick three main points and focus on those.

Mark Lyons is the founder of JackAna

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