the key (message) to a great interview

I am fortunate to work with a client who is contacted by the media on a weekly basis to comment on issues as it relates to their industry.  Conducting interviews with ease was not always that way, as my client had the same concerns most have when dealing with the media –  unsure how to handle themselves during interviews.  With a litte media training and a whole lot of practice, the net result is that my client is now a recognized and respected public figure with the general public and equally so with reporters, who are  genuinely interested in the remarkable work they’re doing.

The key to a great interview is to develop a key message.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to know what you want to say and how best to say it before doing an interview. It’s best to limit your key message to 1 -2 sentences, 30 words or less, (depending on the media – see links at the bottom of this post). 

First, let’s put to rest the 3 most common concerns about conducting a media interview.  

  1. I’ll be asked tough questions I can’t answer.   If you are telling good news stories, you likely won’t be asked tough questions.  If you’re delivering difficult news and asked a difficult question, answer it to the best of your abilities and then transition to your key message.  Before talking with a reporter, anticipate and answer questions – it will ensure you are better prepared. 
  2. I’ll be misquoted.  Learning how to take control of an interview and deliver a set of clear, concise and compelling key messages will reduce the risk of being taken out of context.  Delivering key messages greatly increases the odds of being quoted directly instead of edited, paraphrased, misunderstood, or even worse, not quoted at all. 
  3. I’ll regret something I say. Don’t second-guess what you’re saying –stay focused on delivering your key messages.  Hallmarks of a great key message: brevity, boldness, simplicity, impact and familiarity. 

Every reporter is looking for that one great quote to “punch up” their stories, so talk in “soundbites”.   In radio and TV interviews, you may get 10 seconds of air time.  In a newspaper interview, you may get 1 or 2 sentences. Make it count and stand out.  Prepare something that gets you noticed and remembered. 

Simplify complexity and  “Speak their language.”   They know you’re smart – that’s why they’re interviewing you, so avoid big words or jargon and speak simply and conversationally.  If the reporter doesn’t understand you, then she can’t explain it to the readers or listeners.  Get to the heart of the matter.  Use references, comparisons and metaphors to everyday experience that others can easily relate to. 

The reporter may wrap up the interview by asking if there’s anything you want to add.  Here’s your opportunity to drive home your key message one last time.  Always remember, interviews are two-way conversations, not confrontations, interrogations or lectures.  So relax & be yourself.  By knowing what you want to say and how to respond to questions the reporter will likely ask is really the key to a great interview. 

For tips on print and broadcast interviews, see interview quick tips…