Opinion: How to make media interviews work for you
By Lois Phillips and Anita Perez Ferguson
To sell your services or product or promote your charity or your candidacy, you want to get the word out to thousands of people, rather than just a few at a time. Local editors, podcasters, and talk show hosts are always looking for interesting guests who know what they’re talking about or have a story to tell. And “talk shows” are one third of the most popular kinds of Apple podcasts.
Would you duck the chance for a media interview? Not if you’re ready and well prepared.
TYPES OF INTERVIEWS
As opposed to an information interview where you might be asked questions for the interviewer to learn background for a bigger story, in a media interview you’re the story. You’ll be talking about something new. In your case, it might be your new appointment or leadership role, an innovative product or service, or your particular expertise tied to a current controversy. Let’s acknowledge that the media interview might also involve answering pointed questions and answers.
There are risks involved in media interviews. In the case of any interview, anything you say can and often will be used against you by those who disagree or are competing for public attention. You might be quoted out of context on the evening news or on a social media post. You might be faced with an unexpected question as well as the questions you’ve predicted.
It’s okay to plead ignorance. You can always say, “I don’t know, and I’ll get back to you on that.” You might hear the interviewer challenge something you had said taken out of context, but you can contest it with a rebuttal by referring to the actual context. In any type of interview, be open-minded, humble, and truthful.
Going into a media interview, you’ll have a pitch or point to make, or perhaps surprising information to convey. Your key message points need to be on the tip of your tongue. Can you reduce it to one core idea? Without preparing that single sentence, you might ramble on and miss your moment.
In today’s tweet-centric world, people are used to banner headlines. Cut to the chase quickly. Condense your message into three clear sentences. For example: describe the present situation; state how you feel about it; and state what you propose to do.
The words and memorable phrases you choose are a very important part of your preparation, and you want them to roll off your tongue, so practice them aloud. To stay on message, memorize and practice your list of key points. Did you answer questions directly or go off on an unrelated tangent?
Even when questions get tough or are tangential, you can be polite and respond but know how to bridge back to your key message points.
If your message is known to be controversial, forget about the opposition and instead, appeal to the fence-sitters. In a world in which disinformation is a “wicked problem,” consider the revelations or fact-based information that could move people from indecision to action.
KEEP LISTENERS ENGAGED
People tune out when the language is too specialized, so avoid jargon and acronyms unique to your industry or profession. Use familiar short words, concrete words, active verbs, colloquial language and figures of speech. Make language clear and memorable through vivid examples people can visualize or have feelings about. Avoid sentences that feature a tangle of subsidiary clauses that are hard to follow and impossible to remember.
Do you have a shocking statistic at your fingertips? You can make accurate, current data come alive with a human-interest story. You might mention the California community once known for NIMBY-ism that did a pivot on the issue and adopted a tent city for the homeless. Prepare to share a poignant moment in your personal own life that led to a turning point and supports a point you want to make. People will often remember how you made them feel about your subject more than any of your statistics.
Research reveals that people watching a speaker on a videoconference are more influenced by how much they like the speaker than by the quality of the speaker’s arguments. It’s proven that likability gets you clients, customers, votes and donors. Pundits say Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election because she wasn’t likable enough. Women need to walk a finer line than men do, displaying their competence without appearing too relational.
Likability is ephemeral and to some degree subjective, but the term indicates that you’re a nice person who is friendly, easy to be with, has a sense of humor, and is flexible, characteristics we enjoy in a good interview.
Finally, there’s no harm in reaching out to the press to promote yourself as a potential guest. If you want coverage, find a hook. Explain briefly how your expertise aligns with a topic making headlines, a business conundrum, or a current controversy. Interviewers are always looking for interesting people and story ideas.
• Lois Phillips, Ph.D., is the founder of Antioch University in Santa Barbara, a consultant to executive speakers, and a blogger. Anita Perez Ferguson, Ph.D., is a visiting fellow at Council of Independent Colleges and a former president of the National Women’s Political Caucus and has lectured at CSU Channel Islands. They have co-authored “Women Seen and Heard: Speaker’s Journal” and produced 10 “Women Seen and Heard” podcasts.