First of all, congratulations! If you were approached about an interview, it means you have something interesting and newsworthy to share. Media interviews can cause a lot of anxiety – knowing your words will be out there, broadcast, printed or posted online for the world to see. But you can overcome interview angst with a fair amount of preparation.
What’s the first step to prepping for a conversation with a reporter? Make sure you know the subject of your interview. This might sound silly, but there is often a misperception between interviewer and interviewee as to exactly what the interview is about.
When the reporter requested the interview, she may have said she wanted to talk to you about zebras. But, what, specifically, does she want to know … What is the current zebra population in northern Kenya? Why do they have stripes? Or … Is the zebra population diminishing, and does your company have a small part in that shrinking number?
If you are not completely clear on the direction of the article or the reporter’s intended line of questioning, it’s perfectly okay to ask for clarification. It can only help both of you to have a better sense of what will be asked during the interview.
Next: research, research, research. Research the reporter who requested the interview. What types of stories does she typically write? Has she covered the topic at hand in the past? What is her tone … is it very serious and fact-based, or more lighthearted? This will help you get to know the reporter before your conversation. If she is a freelancer, what types of publications does she typically write for? Does she use social media as a tool to promote her work or engage with readers and followers? If so, use her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn account(s) to get a feel for her interests, opinions and unique approaches to her subject matter.
If the interview is not being conducted in person, you may have a choice between phone or email. If this is the case, consider the following:
Phone interviews help to convey passion and excitement surrounding a given topic. These interviews are best when you are completely comfortable with the subject material. They are also useful if your subject matter requires detailed explanation or education. Phone interviews may not be ideal if you tend to go off-topic from time to time (trust me, we all do) or easily lose your train of thought …
Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, yes, phone versus email interviews.
Email interviews are best if you need to convey simple, factual information. They are also good if you are not as comfortable with your material or if it could be contentious, as they allow you to re-read and review your answers before sending to the reporter. Potential pitfalls of the email interview include having limited space to convey your points and, if there are multiple interviewees, receiving fewer column inches than someone who made a connection with the reporter during a phone interview.
Next, if you don’t have a detailed question list (and you often won’t, if you’re doing the interview in person or via phone), think of questions the reporter may ask, and prepare answers for those questions. Tap into a co-worker or friend who isn’t as close to the subject material, and see if they have additional questions. Practice answering them out loud. Be prepared for the reporter to inquire about items that you can’t answer on the spot. When this happens, it’s okay to respond with a simple “let me get back to you.”
Perhaps most importantly, think of key talking points you want to convey to the reporter, regardless of the line of questioning. Weave these talking points into multiple responses. Want to promote your company’s latest widget? Find a way to make it seem like a natural part of the conversation.
Be ready to provide additional materials that may be helpful to the reporter, including published research, links to additional information, photos, videos or subject matter experts. By setting yourself up as a valuable source, you may be able to score a spot in the reporter’s permanent contact list.
Now, take a deep breath, and call (or email) that reporter back. You can do this!