Ten DOs and Ten DON'Ts for handling media interviews
The Ten DOs
1. Do breathe!
A gruelling interview can be an ordeal, especially if you have something embarassing to hide and are trying hard to hide it. But the vast majority of interviews are not like that. So, relax, keep breathing, and try to treat the interview as a conversation with the reporter. Most times, that's all it is.
2. Do be prepared.
Know what you want to say—and what you don't want to say. Know your objectives in the interview. And know this: No reporter can force you to say something you don't want to say. (Mind you, they have a few tricks of their trade to try to trap you, but we can help you prepare for those.)
3. Do listen carefully to the questions.
Many misquotes and misunderstandings arise from confusing "answers" given to questions that were not actually asked. Consider what is really being asked. If you're confused, ask the reporter to restate or rephrase the question. Or confirm it with, "So what you're asking me is ... "
It's usually obvious why the reporter is calling you. If it isn't, do ask the reporter: "What's the story about, and how do I fit in?" Sometimes, your interview is just one of many for a larger story, and it will help you to know that beforehand. Most reporters will tell you.
4. Do ensure the reporter understands your answers.
Think fast, talk slow. Stick to the point. Be concise. Be specific. Short answers make for easier understanding. And help keep you on track. Further, short answers make for quotable quotes for the reporter, too. This is particularly important, and effective, if you're dealing with radio or TV.
5. Do summarize from time to time.
The reporter may be dealing with an unfamiliar subject. A concise review of what you've said—"So let me sum up where we're coming from"—may help his or her understanding. And, indirectly, suggest how they can explain it to the reader or viewer—in your words.
6. Do have supporting documentation at hand.
Your preparation will help you figure out what reports and documents you may need on hand for quick reference. If you are asked for information or figures that you do not have on hand, offer to get them, and quickly call back with them.
7. Do offer to be available for further questions or follow-up.
Give the reporter all your phone numbers: office, home, cellular, weekend retreat. Smart politicians and business leaders give reporters their unlisted numbers, too. Reporters do not abuse these numbers; it is not in their interest to.
8. Do remember that the reporter can "hear" or "see" more than just your words.
Like you, reporters come with built-in B.S. detectors. Your tone and your style—as well as your content—are part of the picture, too. Reporters react to hostile, aggressive, pushy, smart-alecky and devious people just the way you do. So take good care not to sound like one!
9. Do be aware that the reporter's questions rarely appear in print or on the air; only your answers do.Take a look at today's paper, then watch or listen to the news. You'll see what we mean: It's usually the answer that goes to the public, not the question. So no matter how good or bad the question is, make sure your answer is good, clear, accurate, concise—and yours.
10. Do understand who the audience really is.
You may be talking to a reporter, but the real audience is the people who will read or see or hear what you are saying. The audience is the public. And, through your answers, you and your company or agency are communicating with them.