You did it! You managed to get a news organization’s attention, and now they’re on their way over to interview you. Oh no! What have you done? Your heart is in your throat, your mouth is dry, and everything you ever knew about the topic at hand has flown straight out of your mind. What should you expect? What are you going to say? Do you look ok? What if you make a complete fool of yourself?
First of all, understand that it’s completely normal to be nervous about an interview with a member of the media. Remember your first job interview? You were probably sweating bullets. But you survived that experience and you will survive this one. And if you’re not nervous, congratulations! You’re one step ahead of the game.
It’s interview time….
If you’re nervous, take several deep breaths, take a short walk, listen to some soothing music — whatever calms you down. Remember, you are the expert on your topic. That’s why they want to talk to you in the first place. You have probably talked to countless clients, co-workers, subordinates, volunteers or potential donors about this very topic. You’ve got this!
Next, take a few minutes to review exactly what you want to say. Think about how to keep it conversational, short and to the point. You don’t want to sound too rehearsed but you don’t want to be searching for words either.
Also keep in mind that, unless the reporter is coming to confront you about some scandal or other negative story about your organization, they are not coming with the mindset to make you look bad. This will not be a hostile encounter. On the contrary, the more comfortable they can make you, the better you will be able to communicate your message, and the better their story will turn out. Really, you are in this together. You both have the same goal — to tell a good, compelling story.
What to wear
If you’re going to be doing a TV interview or an interview with a print reporter and photographer, of course you want to look your best. Clean simple lines and vibrant colors tend to work well. Muddy colors look extra dull and busy prints, extra distracting on TV and in photos. And yes, we’re sorry to say, it’s true that the TV camera adds 15 pounds to the average person. So forgo the bulky sweaters.
When the crew arrives
Depending on the medium — print, radio, TV — you will either be dealing with one person or several. Many print and radio journalists work alone. They will require very little set-up time, only having to turn on a recording device or pull out a notebook to be ready to start the interview. These days many TV reporters, especially in smaller cities, are also “one-man-bands”. They will set up their own camera, maybe a light or two, then step out from behind the camera and start the interview. In larger markets, a TV reporter may show up with just a cameraperson, or a cameraperson, sound engineer and lighting specialist. The bigger the crew, the more time they will generally take to set up. While you’re waiting for that to happen, feel free to make small talk with the reporter. But a couple words of caution: 1. If you share your message before the camera starts rolling, and you said it well, don’t be afraid to repeat the exact same words in the actual interview. Too many people give great sound bites before the interview, then, not wanting to repeat themselves verbatim, don’t speak as well during the interview. Nobody will ever know you played the part of a “broken record”. 2. Remember that you are on the record from the moment you start speaking to the reporter, so don’t get sucked into commenting on anything that’s off-topic, but that could be used in another news story. Better to keep the conversation to small talk.
During the interview
Again, do your best to keep your answers conversational, reasonably brief, and on point. Keep your central message in the forefront. At the same time, remember that this is an interview, not a speech. So do your best to listen to, and answer the questions that are being asked. If a reporter thinks you are giving them a “canned” statement and are unable or unwilling to answer their questions, they will be frustrated. Remember, you want them to be your ally.
Try to think of the interview as a conversation. Look at the reporter, not the camera. You will come across more relaxed and natural.
And finally, keep in mind that your comments will be edited way down. Very little of what you say will be used in the final piece. On one hand, this may be a little disappointing. On the other hand, it should come as a relief for a couple of reasons. First, the reporter is only likely to use your best, most colorful, most to-the-point comments. In other words, any stumbles or flubs you make will most likely never see the light of day. Secondly, since it’s not a live interview, you can take a moment to think about your answer to any questions you didn’t expect and/or ask the reporter to clarify any confusing questions. Even if you start to answer a question and get off track, you can say, “Wait. That isn’t really what I wanted to say. May I start over?” Any decent reporter will be fine with that.
When the interview is over, don’t be surprised if the reporter or crew rushes off in a hurry. They probably have other interviews to conduct or news to gather, and they most definitely have a deadline to meet. Here is more on what to expect after the interview.