Media training

Interview preparation is everything

Preparation is vital if you want to achieve anything and that includes interview preparation. One of our trainers who wll remain nameless because he doesn’t want everyone to know how unfit he is has decided to do the “Couch to 5K” course in 2023. He has downloaded the app but is aware that he can’t just go in and do it in his late(ish) 50s. He will need to work his way up to it and warm up his alleged muscles.

In a possibly related incident, lead trainer Guy had a client a few years back who was doing a “fireside chat” style panel discussion online. She wanted to build her confidence and felt she needed preparation. They went through the likely questions a few times but one thing Clapperton Media did was to send a video of us asking questions and leaving a space for the client to answer. The idea – and we admit it was crude – was that the client should run through the panel experience before actually taking part and come into it “warmed”.

Preparation in other fields

It’s quite baffling to us that some people feel they shouldn’t have to prepare or warm up before taking part in an interview or sometimes a presentation. Consider what people do in other fields. We’ll start with areas that are a long way away from the field in which we work and move closer, which we admit is probably a cheap psychological trick.

Warming up for tennis

Tennis warm-ups, women  stretching in preparationHere is a picture of some people playing tennis except as you can see they are nowhere near ready to pick up the ball. They are stretching, they are limbering up and warming their muscles. This might sound a little obvious and even patronising which is not our intention. They will have started preparing a long time before if they expect to be any good (not that we have anything against beginners). As we write, Roger Federer is a few months away from having announced his retirement but we’re guessing he’d still be pretty handy on the court; even if you’re twentysomething and athletic but haven’t picked up a tennis racket in your life he’s still going to slaughter you in a game.

Warming up for an audition

Slightly closer to home for people wanting to work using words is the preparation you might use if you’re going to perform in front of an audience. Here’s a link to the Royal College of Music’s guidance on what to expect in an audition to get onto one of its prestigious courses. The bit you’re looking for (or the bit we’re interested in if you’re not motivated to read through it) is the part that specifies you should allow 15-20 minutes for warming yourself up before you start the audition.

In other words they expect you to come in match-fit. Now ask yourself, if you do any public speaking as part of your job, any keynotes or Town Hall meetings for your employees or clients, do you warm up your voice first – or just expect it to work? Some of the skills you need to “project” as people call it are related to the music the Royal Academy advises, although if you check the excellent Lee Warren’s book on presenting he makes the valid point that sound resonates rather than projects – consciously try to project and you’ll push too hard and end up shouting.

It’s worth considering what you do about warming up your voice and speaking clearly before a major presentation. Most people overlook this but at least have a think about the subject beforehand.

Preparation before a speech

We had a client just before Christmas who we’d describe as a “minority”. Not because of any gender or race distinction but because when we asked what preparation he’d normally do before a speech (we weren’t training him in making speeches but we’ll come to why we asked in a second) he said “nothing, I just turn up”.

His view was that he had decades of experience in his field so just arriving and talking would be fine. He had testimonials to suggest that in his case it was indeed effective; for the vast majority we’d suggest it’s a somewhat haphazard approach – our trainers have been working in their fields for decades but wouldn’t dream of arriving without a briefing and some notes on what they’re going to do, probably including a formal presentation.

The vast majority of our clients agree. If you’re going to go and speak to 200-300 people you’d better do some sort of research, prepare and rehearse several times so that you’re familiar with the material and what comes next. You want that audience to identify with what you’re saying and to act on it.

Many of our clients say this is common sense. Preparation is vital for a speech, of course it is. We then turn this around when we’re training people to talk to the press and ask them what they do in terms of interview preparation. Many clients say, as the client who appeared at the beginning of this section did, that they just turn up. The journalist or other media professional just wants them to answer questions, which they can do without preparation.

Preparation before an interview

The flaw with that logic is that the people going in front of an audience of 200-300 wanted to prepare. The people going in front of an audience of thousands through the medium of a press interview thought they needed to do less. Do the maths – it doesn’t add up! Also if you’re just going to give the journalist they want then fine, they’ll love it. But in what other setting would you enter a business conversation and just hand everything over with no regard to your own needs?

If you’re going into an interview then the need for preparation is massive. You might want to engage the help of a PR company (you might already have done so which could be how you’ve secured the opportunity). Some of the things you will need to know will include:

  • Your topic and what’s going to be of most interest. Yes of course you’re the expert in your area and your company but you’re not going to be able to communicate all the information and every detail in the space of a 45 minute interview. So you have to cherrypick.
  • This means you’ll need an understanding of the journalist and the publication. If you work in, say, the fashion industry, you’ll have targeted a publication that’s interested in clothes but you’ll have a different set of messages for the trade as compared to the consumer, also you might be talking to someone who specialises in writing about fashion on a budget, fashion for people who don’t use animal products…there are many variants and only by knowing who you’re talking to and thinking through the right messages in advance can you do your business justice.

Ready for what?

Your interview preparation will need to leave you ready not only for presenting the facts but also for facing the followup questions. We could consider Guy’s client with the panel discussion again.  We sent a recording of some questions which she was able to use as a warm-up and she had of course prepared before going in front of the audience. She had an audience of about 100 online; if you’re interviewed, even by a trade audience, you could probably add a couple of noughts to that figure.

Now, how were you going to prepare, again?

If you or your clients need help with interview preparation we’re here to put you through your paces – just fill in the contact form and we’ll set up an initial chat.

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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