How to survive a media interview – familiarize yourself

As you’ll know if you read the first in this series of articles on why do it in the first place, giving media interviews can give a very welcome and cost-effective boost in PR terms to your business or other pursuit. Such interviews are also very easy to get wrong, hence this series of articles, and one of the first issues that may challenge your nerves is the unfamiliarity of the “media” culture.

How to survive a media interview - familiarize yourself

TV and radio stations may appear to some people as glorious temples of revered communication. Although this, the old BBC TV Centre in downtown London, England, certainly was a bit palatial, the vast majority of media stations are just modest business premises.

TV and even radio conjure up images of reality stars and larger-than-life newsreaders and other figures with whom you’re unlikely to have had much contact other than via screen or squawk-box. Similarly, TV and radio stations may appear to some people as glorious temples of revered communication.

Glamorous? TV and radio? Uh-uh.

The reality is that the people in the “media” are just doing jobs like you are, and the premises they work in are ordinary workplaces just like yours. (In fact some radio stations and even one TV station I’ve been to have been so scruffy I wouldn’t let my dogs sleep in them, but that’s the smoke-and-mirrors of show business … on a shoestring budget.)

The fact that there are people in headphones lurking behind thick glass partitions surrounded by computer screens, cables, lights and all sort of other media detritus is merely that they’re a bunch of people at work using their particular tools. If you took one of these technical people to visit your brass foundry or sandwich factory s/he would probably be just as twitchy and out-of-place as you might feel at their TV station. The red “live on air” glow on top of the camera or on the wall does not mean the outbreak of WW3: it means purely that it’s time for everyone to go to work. So relax and enjoy it.

Do the homework for your media interview

It helps a lot to do a little preparatory research before you’re interviewed. Sometimes this isn’t possible, of course, e.g. if some urgent issue has arisen and you’re needed to comment on it within hours. But more usually you will have some time in which to find out a bit about the media station and the program you’re to perform in. Watch or listen to earlier editions of the program if you can, to get a feel for the style and the way the interviews are done.

Make sure you and the media station know what to expect of each other. If you’re very lucky and have a PR manager, s/he will do this for you; but in our DIY age it’s more likely to be you or your PA/VA who does this. Unless we’re looking at a small internet radio station, say, you’re unlikely to get through to the interviewer or program presenter in person. You’re more likely to talk with a researcher or perhaps the program producer as well.

Usually these people will tell you what sort of questions or discussions are likely to happen on the program, so you’re ready. For example, I do a regular spot on the evening drivetime radio show which is a panel discussion about business and finance; earlier on the day of the show the producer sends all of us panelists a list of topics from the day’s business and financial news that the show presenter may touch on. We then have a few hours to study the topics and decide how we will speak about them on air.

Getting ready to do the media interview

If you are going to the TV or radio station to be interviewed, get there as promptly as you can. Don’t be too early as a) you will have to hang around possibly in less than comfortable surroundings and have time to get nervous and b) it doesn’t look cool!

Try if you can to have a swift chat with a researcher, the producer, or even the presenter if they can escape to talk with you during during a music or commercial break. Even if you have gone over the details beforehand it will help to calm your nerves to recap on the key points before you sit down to be interviewed.

You won’t always be told exactly what questions the interviewer will ask you, and contrary to what you might think that is a good thing for both of you. From the interviewer’s point of view, keeping a few little surprises up her/his sleeve will ensure that your answers sound spontaneous and unrehearsed. And similarly this will help you to be  unrehearsed and natural sounding. And don’t worry; as long as you know your topic very well and have done the necessary homework, you won’t “dry” and mumble. You’ll be just fine…

In the meantime if you have any comments or questions, please jot them down in a comment below.

Check out all the articles in this series about how to handle media interviews…

How to survive a media interview – watch out for over-confidence

How to survive a media interview – down the line, radio

How to survive a media interview – how to handle yourself

How to survive a media interview – familiarize yourself

How to survive a media interview – why do it in the first place?

How to survive a media interview – down the line, TV

photo credit: Lee Jordan via photopin cc

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