It’s a call I get quite often.
You’ve been contacted by the media to do an interview TODAY as an expert commentator on a particular issue that’s making news — and you’ve never done one before — or at least not in a long time.
Either way, you’re not prepared and now you’re panicking.
It’s as simple as this: you have an incredible opportunity in front of you — the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in the media which is the holy grail of brand building (see this blog I wrote about the power of earned media). So, you were correct to say yes. If you had to buy advertising for this kind of exposure, it would cost thousands of dollars if not tens of thousands of dollars if it’s the national media or a trade publication.
However, being unprepared is highly problematic and somewhat risky. Here’s what I said in a previous article on this subject:
“You only have one or two chances to prove yourself as a reliable and value added source for journalists. If you become known as a lame or boring guest, you’ll be blacklisted and that opportunity will disappear. So before you go running into the streets declaring yourself an expert ready for national media exposure, make sure you’re ready to be interviewed by the media — because they won’t give you a free ride. They are journalists and not stenographers. You will be asked tough, challenging questions. The key is to be prepared for the opportunity.”
Normally, this is where I’d advise you to get media coaching (by someone who has actually worked at a high level in journalism). A session with value is a full day, in my opinion.
However, this blog is about what to do when you have NOT prepared.
This — regrettably — needs to be a crash course. We have no time to get into techniques like bridging and extensive body language analysis and correction like I do during my full-day sessions — so, we need to stick to the low hanging fruit.
Now, I can’t promise success based on reading a blog and having about two hours to get ready — but hopefully this can get you in the right mindset in the short-term. Think of it like a life preserver rather than a yacht.
Alright. Let’s get to work.
We will stick to 5 basic steps and tips:
Step 1 – Clear Your Schedule: You are unprepared for this media interview. Your reputation and the reputation of your company are counting on you doing everything you can to get ready in a short period of time. So, I don’t care what you have scheduled for the next three hours — clear it. Otherwise, stop reading here — and, good luck.
Step 2 – Call a Friend: Contact a smart, trusted friend or colleague who is good at asking questions. It can be a work colleague or even better if you have a friend or relative who has worked in the media. You are going to tell them you are doing a media interview and you want them to do a “mock/fake interview” with you in about one hour. This can be done over the phone if need be. It should last about 10 minutes and you’ll want to do it at least twice. We want them to prepare questions ahead of time and to be tough on you. You want to practise and work out the kinks before the real interview.
Step 3 – Find Out The Interview Focus: In all the excitement of hearing from a journalist, you may have forgotten to ask directly what the exact focus of their story is going to be. So, call the reporter back (only email them if you can’t reach them on the phone) and ask them what the focus of their story is going to be — and what they’re hoping you will say or speak to specifically. Ask them for a rough idea of the kinds of questions they may ask. Take notes and send them over to your friend doing the mock interview.
Step 4 – Decide on Your Main Message: If I told you the reporter was going to interview you for ten minutes but then only use 20 seconds of that interview in their story (happens all the time) — what would you want to say in those 20 seconds? What is THE most important thing that you have to say about this subject? Even if you’re doing an extended interview (say, 5-7 minutes on public radio), knowing your main message will help you keep the interview on track as you are the expert and directing the flow of the interview.
Step 5 – Practise With A ‘Mock’ Interview: So, you’ve prepared the above points. You should be about 30 minutes from doing your interview. The friend or colleague you called in the beginning of this session should be ready to do a mock interview, pretending to be the journalist. They will interview you for the first time for 10 minutes. When you’re done, have a discussion about what you both liked and more importantly, what needs to be tweaked. Now, do the interview again — and follow it up with another debrief.
You are now as ready as you’re ever going to be in 2 hours. It’s a mere fraction of what you will learn in a full media training session but it will get you through a basic interview.
Take 3 deep breaths and exhale big — and remember you are the expert in the room on your subject. The reporter is counting on you to be clear and concise.
You are being interviewed as an expert because you know what you’re talking about. Have the confidence in knowing that the reporter is counting on you to steer the conversation toward what’s important in your opinion.
You are being given the opportunity to share your knowledge, expand the branding of both yourself and your organization — and these are all good things.
Hopefully this crash course is enough to get you through this one — but do yourself a favour afterward and get some quality media coaching sessions moving forward. Your reputation is worth it. You’ll spend thousands of dollars on advertising very few people are going to see so don’t cut corners when it comes to earned media.
In one of my next blogs, I will get into greater detail on how to prepare for an interview.
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