So, something has happened.

It might be good news, it might be bad.

It might be all about you or it might be something on which you might have an opinion.

For whatever reason, the Daily Bugle, Radio Narnia or What’s Up TV is on the phone and they want an interview. It doesn’t matter the format. There are journalists asking to interview you. Take these five simple steps to prepare before a media interview

1. Who are you and what do you want?

Do not go into an interview blind

It’s a fair question. You have a right to know who the journalist is and who they represent. If they’re from a recognised publication or broadcast outlet, that’s a basic right as laid down by various codes of conduct and one of the fundamental things to prepare before a media interview. For example you need to know:

  • What they think the story is
  • What the subject matter for interview is
  • Who else they’ve spoken to.
  • If you are being invited to respond to the point of view of a critic you have the right to know who that critic is and what they’re alleging.

Do not go into an interview blind. Ask questions. Then ask the format – if it’s broadcast is it live or is it recorded? Is it for a specific programme with a certain type of audience? Is it for a trade paper or a general news publication? Is it all about me or am I just one of many contributors? Only then can you decide …

2. Is this an opportunity? 

“the media is no place to win an argument”

That’s right. Ask yourself what’s in it for me? Am I being offered 15” for the next news bulletin or 1000 words in the weekend supplement? If brand and reputation are at stake you are more likely to want to put your position.

Remember, the media is no place to win an argument. It’s really only a place to state your position. If you’ve attracted interest from the media by issuing a news release then this is great, you’ve attracted attention. But don’t think yours will be the only voice heard. Journalists get their contributions from many sides and increasingly just by plundering the social media. So if you’ve decided this media interview is an opportunity then prepare…

3. What do I want to say?

What would I most like to read myself saying

Interviews with the media are not like taking part in a pub quiz. You don’t get a point for answering a question correctly. It’s fair to say that whatever subject you are being interviewed on you will know much more than the journalist. Even if they’re from a trade publication or a specialist programme. This is not necessarily to your advantage. Churchill used to say…

“If you want me to talk about the war for three hours I can start now. If you want me to talk about the war for three minutes, I’ll need time to prepare”

This is you. You know too much. Preparation before a media interview often involves a concentration of knowledge.

Think… given all the circumstances of this interview, and everything I know what do I want to say to this journalist who represents this audience. Think… when I pick up the Daily Bugle what would I most like to read myself saying. What’s the one or two most important things I have to say? And you need to decide these important things before the interview.

Unless you have this very clear idea of what you want to say you’ll have no agenda. You’ll end up answering the questions. And while it may not get you into any kind of trouble it may be a waste of your opportunity.

4. Keep it simple

Talk to me in a language I understand

Don’t try to say too much. If the opportunity you are taking is for a clip for the news – a sound bite – then you’ll be getting no more than 20 seconds of air time, probably less. You can say a couple of things in that time, but no more. So, keep it simple in terms of what you try to say.

And keep it simple in terms of how you say it. Exchanges with the media should be conversational in tone and language. They are not conversations. But you need to use every day conversational language – especially when talking about what might be a complex issue. Broadcast audiences in particular need to be able to understand and take on board the points you are making – two at most – first time.

Audiences get just the one opportunity to hear and understand you. Talk to me in a language I understand. Conversational English. And so key to efficiency is to prepare before a media interview by making some notes beforehand making sure you use “speaking out loud English”. Interviews with the media need to be easy on the ear.

5. Practice

responses, not answers – contain the good stuff

Once you’ve decided what it is you want to say, and the language you are going to use to say it – practice.

Ask a colleague to fire a few questions at you and practice making sure your responses – remember responses, not answers – contain the good stuff.

Nobody should launch themselves into an interview without running through their position first. Colleagues may have a view on what you are planning to say. If you have a PR team in your organisation they may well have helped you through the entire process of 1 – 4 above. But they don’t always give you a practice run. Make sure they do.

Practice may not make you perfect but it will help to get you articulating and make you feel at least more comfortable to be able to an effective interview.