Polish Your Performance Before the Press

Last week I had the pleasure of leading a book rap at the National Press Club for Reporters Don’t Hate You: 100+ Amazing Media Relations Strategies. One of the topics that generated interest was how to perform during a media interview, everything from what to wear, how to conduct a remote news conference, and what types of background looks appropriate for a Zoom interview.

Here’s an abridged excerpt on how to perform before the press, designed to help both spokespeople and those who advise them.

  • Stick to your message throughout your interview. Return to it in response to every single question. This is not optional. Do not wander. A big part of your messaging efforts surrounds discipline – having the discipline to impart your stance in every question in every interview.
  • Use vivid language to ensure you speak in quotable quotes. You have so many tools at your disposal: Colorful stories, action verbs, comparisons, numbers, extremes, third-party endorsements, references to current events, famous quotes, and survey findings can be your friends. Decide which work best for your style and lean on them.
  • Avoid talking in jargon. Plain language is a virtue, even if you are talking with the wonkiest trade reporter. That reporter is, after all, merely a vehicle for delivering your message. Readers may not be familiar with your lingo.
  • Never, ever say “no comment.” You might as well wave a red cape in a bull ring. There will be times when you are legitimately unable to comment on an issue. This happens most typically when it revolves around an ongoing legal or personnel matter, or when proprietary issues come into play. However, “No comment” is not the way to deal with such situations.Graph improvement
  • Emphasize the positive throughout your interview. How can you avoid negative language? Turn things around by ignoring the negative in the question. You might say, “As a matter of fact, our quarterly results improved compared with last year’s first quarter so, as I’ve noted, we are on the right track.” Accentuate the positive.
  • Set time limits in advance of your interview and enforce them. If you can’t get your message across in 20 minutes or less, you should not be dealing with the press. Make it clear to the reporter when arranging the question and answer session that you have 20 minutes (or 15, or 10, or five; it’s your decision). As your interview winds down, enforce that agreement.
  • Come prepared with third-party references. Basically, you want other credible sources to say nice things about you. The key here is to line up these sources before you need them. Forge these relationships as a matter of course throughout your career, so that, when you need them, you don’t need to chase them. By then, it’s too late.
  • Control the flow during a news conference. You choose who asks questions in what order. Refuse to let the horde take charge by screaming questions. Settle things down by calmly calling on questioners.
  • Assign one person the task of concluding your news conference. A simple, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” sends a signal to the press that the session is over. Assign this to one of your media relations staff members.
  • Use index cards if you bring notes for an audio podcast or radio talk show interview. Why index cards? The microphones will pick up the rustling noise made by plain paper. Jotting down your main messages and perhaps a word or two to remind you of a key fact you want to be sure to deliver or a story you want to tell should suffice.
  • Drink water during your interview. I don’t mean that you should chug a gallon or two. That will only necessitate trips to the restroom (or a clearly uncomfortable crossing of your legs and squirming in your seat, taking your concentration off the job at hand). A sip every so often to wet your whistle is fine.
  • Ignore all the hustle and bustle if you do an in-studio radio or television interview. Keep your focus on delivering your message. You are likely to observe lots of furtiveness and running around that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Let the station staff figure out what they need to figure out. Your only job is to impart your message.
  • Remain flexible on the day of your interview. Media outlets are constantly besieged by breaking news, so your appointment may be pushed back. Don’t take this personally. The media must often make spur-of-the-moment decisions on what to cover. If your planned interview is not immediately timely, you may find yourself bumped for anything from a presidential announcement to a three-alarm blaze. It happens.

Consult Reporters Don’t Hate You for the detailed scoop on these strategies. You’ll even find advice on how to deal with Zoom interviews, the importance of your messaging efforts, a reporter’s glossary, and much more.


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