The day has finally come: your media interview is scheduled with that one reporter you’ve been trying to connect with for months. You’ve got the phone number ready to dial, you practiced pronouncing the journalist’s name, you get through the introductory pleasantries and then … they hit you with the first question.

You freeze. You stammer. You mumble out a halfway decent answer, but you can tell it’s not what the journalist was really looking for. Now you’re flustered and off your game. Suddenly your area of expertise seems so foreign to you; all the information is on the tip of your tongue but for some reason you can’t quite articulate it. A few days later, you see the reporter’s story was published. You read through it and your commentary wasn’t included.

What went wrong? You were so ready to have a great conversation. 

It happens. We all get flustered and once we falter, it’s hard to get back on track. The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to make sure you’ve done your due diligence. Below are some essential tips to help nail every media interview.

Know the Reporter.

Make sure you know who you’re talking to. This may sound obvious but it’s imperative that you understand who the reporter’s audience is, what they cover, and how that relates back to you. Perhaps you’re a real estate mogul but the economic reporter you’re speaking with is probably less interested in the nitty-gritty property details you can provide and more interested in your thoughts on how the market impacts the larger business landscape. That nuance can be the difference between inclusion in the article or not.

Make sure you read a few recent and relevant articles ahead of your interview to get a sense of their general perspective on their given beat, their writing style, and how they tend to cover the industry. Know where else they’ve written before coming to this particular publication as the trajectory of their career could influence how they write and interview. 

Get Your Talking Points in Order.

This one seems like a no-brainer, and possibly even slightly insulting but it’s a key piece of interview preparation. Make sure you understand exactly what it is you’re going to be talking about. Sometimes it’s possible that a reporter will provide some questions or general topics ahead of the actual interview, but this is not a luxury to rely on. Have some of your key points written out and ready to come back to for reference throughout your conversation. This is how you avoid mumbling and stammering through an answer that you otherwise would have knocked out of the park. 

Good answers beget even better questions which, in turn, beget great conversations. Your well-thought-out answer might draw out a great follow-up question and, from there, you and the interviewer are locked in on the same wavelength for the rest of the chat.

Writing out information you’re already an expert on might be a tedious task but it’s going to come in handy when you find yourself losing your train of thought while answering a reporter’s complex question. You’ll always have your crucial talking points to go back to as an anchor for your responses. This will also help you to stay on topic throughout your conversation.

Understand General Media Interview Guidelines.

Again, it sounds obvious, but there is a way to properly navigate an interview. For instance, dial-in on time; don’t keep a journalist with a tight deadline waiting around on the phone for 10 minutes.

Let the journalist ask their question in its entirety. This one can be tough to follow-through on in practice: you start to hear the first half of the question and you think you can tell where they’re going with it, so you just jump right in and blast off with your answer. Now, the journalist is still finishing their question, while you’re responding, and you’re talking over each other, resulting in you having to repeat yourself or even worse, their question took an unexpected turn at the end that you hadn’t anticipated. Now you’re scrambling for a new answer and the lagging audio and static noises of computer conference calls are actively working against you and throwing off your rhythm.

It should also be understood that the interview is implicitly all on the record. Anything you say can end up in the eventual article, so be thoughtful toward what you say and how you say it. It’s also entirely possible that they are recording the interview for future reference (though they often make you aware), so anything you say can be directly attributed to you, word-for-word. If there is something you’d like to disclose off the record, make sure you clearly announce it ahead of time and it always helps to wait until the journalist verbally confirms that what you are about to say is off the record as well.

Interviews aren’t necessarily difficult; they just require preparation. While we’d all like to believe that we’re the type of person who can just hop on the phone with The New York Times at the drop of a hat, crush it, and just go right back to our busy days after, that often isn’t the case. You need to know who you’re talking to, know what you’re going to talk about and how to properly wade your way through the conversation to ensure you don’t get tripped up and left out of the story.

FischTank prepares clients for media interviews every day (that we secure!), with comprehensive briefing documents. To learn more about our process or to discuss how we can help you generate positive media coverage, email us at [email protected].

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