Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in front of a camera and/or a reporter, shocking I know. This is usually a good thing as far as I’m concerned because it means less competition for my job. There are times when those camera-shy folks need to act as spokespersons. When those times arise, some sort of “media training” is necessary. Given my comfort and experience in this aspect of public relations, I enjoy providing this training. My goal is to help the individual feel confident, which will resonate with the reporter, the camera and the audience.
During my recent time between professional stops, I’ve had the chance to interview many times for potential opportunities. I soon began to recognize the similarities between media interviews and job interviews. During the latter, my message is myself and it is my job to deliver the important key points about that message. Reflecting on some of the main tips and techniques I usually cover in media training, I have been able to go into these interviews with a strategy and more confidence.
I’ve outlined some of these corollaries below:
- Prep Work: Before the interview, you should do your homework. Gather information on with whom you will be speaking and get a basic understanding of their organization. In a media interview, this prep work can help you prepare for unexpected questions; in a job interview, this work shows initiative and presents you as a candidate that is serious about the position. Approach this in two ways: (1) start formulating informed questions to show your level of interest and willingness to prepare for the interview; (2) developing ways to position yourself with what the organization represents.
- Introduction: In a media interview, the first request is often “state your name and organization.” This serves to help set mic levels and gives the reporter your preferred name (and spelling) and who you represent so they can post it on-screen later. In a job interview, the first question is usually “tell me about yourself.” Like in a media interview, this should be an easy question for which you have a well-rehearsed answer. A clear, succinct snapshot of who you are, career background and what you are looking for can be very useful. This is not the time to list all your experience, accomplishments or education; the interviewer will ask for that if/when they are interested. Rather, this is a chance for you to make the first impression, give yourself a headline and lede if you will. You can practice this in advance so you sound self-assured when you deliver it.
- Trust Your Knowledge: When I prepare Subject Matter Experts for media interviews, I remind them that they are asked to do interviews because they are in fact, Subject Matter Experts. They should be secure in their ability to answer questions on the topic. When you are interviewing for a job, you are the best Subject Matter Expert about you there could be. Whether the questions are about your background, skill sets, experiences or philosophies, trust your knowledge of yourself. Do not spend time trying to find the answer that the interviewer might be looking for or for what “sounds” best. Answering honestly about yourself reflects confidence, and helps to avoid sticky situations where you might misrepresent yourself.
- Prepare To Pivot: Another tip for media interviewees is to be prepared to give answers to questions you want to be asked, even if they aren’t asked. This helps to maintain control of the interview and avoid topics or questions that are undesirable. Most often, there are two types of undesirable questions: (1) questions you don’t have an answer or information for; (2) questions where the answer is not favorable for you. These questions can come up in job interviews as well. In either setting, you should be prepared to turn those undesirable questions into more positive opportunities. With the first type of questions, honestly acknowledging that you don’t have that information right now is not a bad response. But you should always follow it up with an offer to secure the information and provide it as soon as possible. Then, you should pivot to a version of the question that you can answer and that is more in line with your purpose, topic or skill set. If the question has an answer that is less than favorable for you, be ready to turn the answer back towards something positive. For example, if you are asked about something where you lack experience, your response may be “I don’t have as much experience in ABC as I’d like, but I have completed MNO and done XYZ which are similar and also show my ability to learn and adapt.”
- Your Turn to Question: Many reporters will ask if there are any questions you think they should ask. This usually comes during a positive or proactive piece where the reporter is responding to an interview invitation and they are looking for the best content for their story. This is an opportunity for you to refocus the interview on your particular purpose or goal and set yourself up with a question for which you’ve prepared a great answer. In a job interview, the corollary is when they ask “what questions do you have for us?” This is where your preparation beforehand comes into play. The question(s) you ask may be as important as some of the answers you’ve given. This is your opportunity to ask thoughtful questions that show your level of interest and engagement. Additionally, their response may present you an extra opportunity to promote yourself.
- The Wrap Up: A very popular last question in a media interview is “do you have anything else you’d like to add?” This is a great opportunity for you to finish the interview on your terms, giving a polished, rehearsed sound bite that can offset any earlier stumbles in delivering the crux of your message. Many reporters will appreciate getting another crack at a clean, coherent piece of audio, so make sure your response is concise and on-message. During a job interview, you can take the same opportunity. As the conversation winds down, the interviewer may ask “is there anything else you’d like to share with us?” Go back to your polished introductory statement if necessary, or at least some form of it. Just like you are looking to make a good first impression, this is the chance to make a final lasting impression.
Whether it’s an interview with the local TV station or an interview for a new opportunity, you want to put your best foot forward and tell your best story. Keeping a few tips in mind will help you feel comfortable, and most importantly confident.