Media training

Media training: from amateur interviewee to pro

We’ve all seen poor interviewees in the media and let’s be honest, most people won’t be all that terrible. You’re more likely to be indifferent than actively bad.

An indifferent interview, though, is still going to serve you poorly. So here we’ll go through ten tips to make sure you perform better.

Interviewees’ attitudes

It’s worth beginning by checking your view on your interview before you go in. So many of our clients feel they need to answer all of the questions and do nothing else. It’s true that this can be a cultural issue; some of our clients in Eastern Europe get mightily irritated by displays of interviewees changing the subject or moving to a topic that suits them better. Only recently we had an engineer who felt doing anything like that would affect his reputation.

Every rule is going to have its exceptions. Ask yourself this, though: if you’re being paid for your time, your media interview is a business conversation. In any other meeting you’d feel entitled to put your view forward – so why should this change in a press interview?

Trust your expertise and research

You’ll have seen interviews in which the interviewees fluff, dodge a question, are looking for an agenda from the journalist. First, the big secret: the vast majority of journalists are there to tell a perfectly straightforward story. Second, the flustering tends to come out because people may have prepared but they don’t trust their preparation. If you use a PR company (and Clapperton Media Training often works in tandem with such organisations) they will furnish you with information on the journalists, bloggers and other media figures you’re likely to meet; they will anticipate the likely lines of questioning and offer possible answers. Take those elements seriously – they are there to help. Give it only a cursory read-through and you’ll struggle to remember, appearing not to know your stuff.

A related point is that you’re the expert in your topic, you’re close to the market, not the journalist. If the interviewer happens not to know the question that will elicit the most useful fact for the reader, it’s down to you to bring it up.

Know where you’re going

Pic of a satnav to illustrate interviewee setting directionWe often use the image of a satnav in our media training as well as our presentation training. The thing about a satnav is that you tell it where you want to go and it doesn’t take you anywhere that isn’t part of the way to your destination.

Interviews will work best for you if you have a destination or aim in mind. Not that we’re suggesting you ride roughshod over the questions you’re being asked; if you get that reputation journalists will simply speak to someone else next time. However, if you have an aim in mind then just as in any other business conversation you’ll find the result will be better when it’s published. Plus you’ll have an idea of whether it’s been a success or not, depending on what you were aiming for.

Slow down

Several times this month we’ve been training in different places, asked practice questions and found people getting lost in the middle of their answers. We believe this is due to two things. First people think they have to speak immediately a question has been asked. This isn’t the case. The journalist or blogger might want an answer quickly but you don’t work for them, you work for your business. Second this leads to the interviewee beginning to speak immediately rather than thinking about where they’re going to finish.

Slow down. Take a breath. It’s your interview. If a journalist doesn’t like that, tough, Tell them you need to think for a second – what are they going to do, get distressed at asking you a question that provoked some thought? If they really press, tell them you don’t want to mislead their reader/listener/viewer. There’s no comeback from that.

Tell the truth…

Yes we know what a lot of people think of media trainers. But no, we won’t train you to lie. It’s a terrible idea; you have to remember which untruth you’ve told to which journalist for consistency. If you’ve told the truth in the first place it’s never going to turn around and catch up with you. The best interviewees are honest but focused.

…but select the relevant bits

Something a lot of our clients try to do in the practice sessions is to share all of their expertise in a short interview. That’s right, they’ve worked in an industry for ten years and they want to share all of that in a five minute warm-up interview.

They do it because they want to help but the more densely-packed an interview is, the more likely a journalist is to lose the thread and do that human thing of making mistakes. Try finding out about the readership and what they’re likely to need, pick a few vital things and focus on those.

Work up some soundbites

At the risk of sounding fake, soundbites can be really useful when it comes to getting a message understood and shared. If you have a memorable phrase, use it and don’t worry about repeating it once or twice.

Tell stories. About people.

People buy from people and they listen to people. Years ago when lead trainer Guy was working with the Guardian’s “Business Sense” supplement, an offshoot of the technology section and focused on small businesses, he was writing about some software aimed at farmers. The Guardian asked what they could use to illustrate the piece and put on the supplement’s cover and Guy said he could get shots of the software’s box or of the screens while it was being used. The design people rightly asked if they could send a photographer up to one of the customers and get a picture of them; the cover just consisted of two people Guy had interviewed looking at the camera and it was infinitely better than a yawn-inducing box of software.

Watch out for silences

You know that trick you use in interviews when you’re recruiting people? You ask a question, they answer and you smile at them, they feel they have to say a bit more and they end up telling you a lot more than they’d intended? Well, journalists are wise to that one too. If a journalist is playing the old silence trick on you, a simple “Does that answer the question?” will force them either to ask something specific or to move on to something else. Don’t feel you have to “fill”!

Get media training

Oh come on, it’s us, you knew that was coming! Lindsay will be pleased to set up an initial chat with Guy if you click here and we’ll find out which of our trainers is best suited to your needs.

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We work with you to instil a calm, cool confidence with the media. We want you to leave the room equipped with tools and techniques to ensure your points are understood by journalists and other media professionals and made in such a way that they'll report them accurately