“Can you get us in the Financial Review or The Australian?” “Can you get me interviewed on BBC TV or Bloomberg TV?”
Those are two of the most common questions we get from people who want to get interviewed by the media.
Some people think that getting media interviews is a matter of calling a journalist and telling her or him that they want to have a chat. But the reality is, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Many people who want to see themselves and their companies written about in the media (or interviewed on TV) don’t realise that they need to do some homework before they talk to a journalist.
In this post, we share some tips about media interview mistakes and how you can avoid them.
We decided to go direct to the sources – the journalists themselves who are at the forefront of interviewing people. We asked them about their experiences and views on the common mistakes people make before and during media interviews.
So, before you do your next media interview, we suggest you read this thoroughly to make sure that you don’t commit any of these mistakes.
These tips can make a big difference in making your media interview a success or a flop.
Here are the most common media interview mistakes and how you can avoid them
Mistake #1: Not knowing the topic of the interview/not being prepared
This is one of the most common mistakes, yet people still do it. Not knowing the topic of the interview is like walking into a dark room blindfolded. You won’t know where to go and you don’t know what to expect once you get in there.
Gayle Bryant, a freelance journalist for major publications, is not happy when interviewees don’t even know the topic of the interview.
“Not being prepared – including not knowing who I’m writing for and not finding out about the key points that I want to cover in the interview is a common mistake. If you’re unprepared the interview can end up being a waste of time,” she said.
Obviously, you don’t want to waste the journalist’s nor your time.
How to avoid it:
- Ask the journalist for some guide questions or at least an overall topic
- If you have a Public Relations or Media relations manager who contacts the journalist directly, ask him/her to get more information about the topic
Mistake #2: Not knowing who will be interviewing you
If you don’t know who you will be talking to, you can’t prepare properly because you don’t know their interviewing style. Similar to not knowing the topic of the interview, it is a big mistake to go to an interview if you don’t know who will be throwing the question at you.
How to avoid it:
- Do your research and find out who the journalist is, her/his interview style.
- Do some research about the publication, the type of articles they write about and their readership
Mistake #3: Talking shop and using too much jargon
While talking shop or using too much jargon may pass when you’re chatting with your officemates and industry colleagues, it is a no-no when talking to journalists.
Remember that your primary objective when doing a media interview is to tell a story in an interesting and exciting way.
Using jargon and industry terms is definitely not an interesting way to tell a story.
So, get rid of the jargon and remember to speak in plain English.
Gayle doesn’t mince her words about this mistake.
She said: “Marketing language (and too much jargon) won’t get published so there’s no point using it. Use words that will help people gain a better understanding of what you’re offering.”
How to avoid it:
- Use simple and easy to understand words that people can relate to.
- Use analogies and comparisons or give examples to explain a technical topic.
Mistake #4: Not pencilling it (interview) in your diary
Agreeing to a media interview and then not putting the date and time in your calendar is not only poor time management. It could also lead to wasting a great opportunity.
Swati Pandey, business writer at Thomson Reuters, had her share of interviewees not putting the interview schedule on their calendar.
Swati said: “One of the biggest (mistakes) is not pencilling in your diary. I have had a couple of situations where the interviewee wasn’t prepared for my call or physical presence. Sometimes it means rescheduling the interview altogether.”
She cited one particular incident where she called the interviewee at the scheduled time but she was told to call back again and again. So as not to waste any more of her time, Swati asked the interview to be rescheduled.
In the end, the interview didn’t happen. What a wasted opportunity.
Another variety of this not pencilling the interview on your calendar is showing up later for the interview.
According to Juliette Saly, news anchor from Bloomberg Radio, “Being late to a live interview is an annoying mistake. Everyone has busy schedules and lives, but live TV and radio have a lot of moving parts. If one guest is late, it can have flow-on ramifications for an entire show.”
“Show respect and turn up well ahead of time. If you have committed to the interview, you should show up on time – or answer your phone if it’s a radio or newspaper interview. If you’re doing a TV interview allow time for make-up, and to get your microphone on,” Juliette said.
How to avoid it:
- Put in the interview time and other details in your calendar as soon as it is confirmed.
- Use your desktop, laptop or smartphone calendar (hopefully they are all in synch)
- Set-up an alarm or reminder for yourself a day before the interview
Mistake #5: Not showing any enthusiasm or interest in the interview
Journalist and author Adam Courtenay said it is a big mistake when interviewees don’t have any enthusiasm for the interview.
He said, “Nothing is more enervating to a journo than silence – for days. The journo has been put on the backburner, 50th most important thing. Most journalists think they’re more important than the Prime Minister, so leaving them in the lurch is never good,”
“Employ someone good to let the journo know what’s going on if you are genuinely too busy to talk at any moment. If you betray your lack of interest to the journo, he or she will pick up on it,” he said.
From a journo’s perspective, Adam said not talking for days and then ringing journalists at 6.30 on the night of the deadline for a quick comment you don’t want to make anyway is not worth it.
“Not only will you probably be squeezed into the story, you end up being the fifth priority of the story, not the first. if you don’t want to do it, just say no – don’t keep them hanging.”
How to avoid it:
- If you said yes to a media interview, prepare some talking points and notes that you can discuss and share with the journalist.
- If you can’t do the interview (despite an earlier confirmation), let the journalist know 1-2 days before the deadline
Mistake #6: Giving boring answers – give examples instead
One of the facts you have to remember when speaking with a journo is that he or she is always after a story – an interesting, entertaining or informative story.
So, if what you have to say is boring and bland, maybe it’s best not to agree to a media interview. This is particularly important to keep in mind when you’re doing a TV interview.
Remember TV is a visual medium, which means the audience can see your every move and facial expression.
Natalie MacDonald, news anchor at Sky Business TV, knows too well about people who can only give boring and dry information that no one is interested in.
“Even if you’re not across the latest company or stock specific announcement, that’s not a problem. Before answering “I don’t cover that”, have a think about related issues you do cover. You may have more to offer than you realise,” Natalie said.
If you can’t really talk about a specific company or announcement, here are some suggestions from Natalie that you can talk about:
- Can you discuss the broader industry instead space?
- What’s happening in the industry in general?
- How are the other players performing?
- Perhaps you have some insight into this industry based on their US counterpart?
Again, from Adam’s perspective, “Among the hardest things a journo can do is interview someone who is curt. The interviewee thinks they’re smart because they’re saying little. They think they’re getting away with it – they’re not.
According to Ricardo Goncalves, SBS TV Finance Editor, another variety of this mistake is when interviewees are ‘overly prepared’.
He said: “Sometimes, people can be overly prepared. They refer to their notes too much or read from a script to the point that they sound robotic and insincere.”
And this doesn’t look good at all, particularly if you’re being interviewed on national TV.
Another version of giving boring replies according to Prashant Mehra, a business journalist at AAP Newswire, is when an interviewee declines to respond to even routine questions.
Journos are used to talking to all types of experts – be they business, finance or other industry authorities.
Remember that most interviewees are being interviewed for their ‘expert opinions or views’. So if you are not ready to give your piece of mind on an issue or a topic, you might as well not do the interview at all.
Juliette from Bloomberg Radio also shares her frustration when guests do not answer questions properly or try to be elusive.
She said: “Not answering the question is one of the big mistakes. The typical politician response. Everyone has their own agenda and own spin they want to give on a story, but it’s frustrating having to go round and round in circles as an interviewer to get an answer on a specific topic if the guest keeps evading the main point.”
Don’t expect that the journalist will take everything that you say as long as it suits you.
How to avoid it:
- Prepare some talking points including some keywords or messages you want to use during the interview
- Use some analogies, cite examples to illustrate a point
- Use word pictures to highlight your messages
Mistake #7: Long, meandering answers/ Talking non-stop
According to Gayle, “More is not better. Less is more when it answers the question asked. Everyone is time poor so if I’ve asked a clear question then I just want the answer. I don’t need to hear all about the company’s history and all the pros of every product and service offered in the same breath.”
Likewise, she said people who talk non-stop could be a problem too.
“Sometimes it’s hard to stop someone in full flow. Take a breath. Or better still, ask if what they’re saying is what the journalist wants,” Gayle said.
Natalie from Sky Business said another version of this mistake is when people talk too fast.
She said: “Don’t speak too quickly, particularly on TV shows, viewers can’t digest your message if they can’t understand what you’re saying.”
How to avoid it:
- Take the cue from Gayle, stop or pause at times and ask the journalist if what you’re saying is answering the question or what he/she wants.
- Engage the journalist, ask her/him if you’re giving what she/he wants
- Remember, it is an interview, not a monologue.
Mistake #8: Picking up a fight with the journalist
No matter what you do, don’t get angry, particularly at the journalist. You don’t want to pick up a fight with any journalist. Never.
I like what Adam has to say about this.
“Be wary – but never, ever get angry.”
And take note of this, also from Adam. He said: “The world of journalism is about 70 percent good guys that just want decent, interesting pieces to write and hope you can help them to do that, and 30 percent ‘gotcha’ types,”
“Remember you may be talking to a gotcha type who’s not interested in what you’re saying but trying to catch you out. Be on your guard, but try not to be too defensive or angry.”
When these guys pick on you, you must be ready to deflect. Always be polite. Even laugh when they try it on, Adam suggested.
“They’re trying to get you to say something you might regret. That’s their gotcha moment and you must deny them that opportunity – in a nice way, but shirt-fronting a journo never works,” he said.
How to avoid it:
- Don’t ever pick a fight with a journalist
Mistake #9: Communications/PR person stealing the show
According to Swati, one of her biggest pet peeves is the constant interruptions by the Communications or PR person during interviews.
She said: “This may not be a mistake but a strategy, but it is annoying when there are constant interruptions from the Communications person while the interviewee is talking. The Comms person sometimes can get too dominating and they would interject the conversation several times to sway the direction of the interview. This can get really annoying for both the journalist and the executive being interviewed.”
And who wouldn’t be annoyed with that?
How to avoid it:
- If you have a Communications or PR person with you during the interview, make sure that he/she doesn’t interrupt the conversation.
- Remember, you are the one being interviewed, not your Communications or PR manager.
Mistake #10: Wrong choice of venue
This may seem a small item and may not even count as a mistake from your point of view.
But the reality is, picking the venue (i.e. the right venue) is crucial to your media interview.
Remember that a media interview is an important meeting because you have something interesting, informative and vital information to share to a journalist.
According to Swati, another big mistake is booking a noisy place for interviews.
She said: “A coffee catch up is meant to be informal, but sometimes the venue is too noisy to have any meaningful conversation. Also, if you are recording the conversation you end up hearing mainly background noise, disappointing!”
How to avoid it:
- Pick a quiet venue where you can have a decent and uninterrupted conversation with the journalist
- Avoid small, crowded and noisy places
To wrap it all up, we also asked Mark Laudi, CEO of media training and TV news production company Hong Bao Media, on his tips to successful media interviews.
Mark spent several years as a news anchor with CNBC TV before he set up his own media company. He said the success of any media interview depends on what he calls the 3Ps of media interviews.
Mark’s 3Ps refer to preparation, practice and performance.
P1 is for preparation
According to Mark, most of the people who do the media training sessions with him all realise that “they need to prepare more”.
“I can never over-emphasize the need to prepare for every media interview. It is vital to prepare and it is critical that you know ‘what’ to prepare for,” he said.
P2 if for practice
“Sometimes I hear participants say they’ve had media training before and they don’t need it. But when they then come to our workshops, they invariably come away saying the session was time well spent. That’s because even though they might know the theory, what they lack is practice being grilled in an authentic media environment,” Mark said.
P3 is for performance
“There is often a white-knuckled focus on getting the messages right, leaving the soft skills of communication, such as tone of voice and using your voice and also demeanour to best effect, takes a back seat,”
“The fact is, persuading viewers of your point-of-view is an all-in experience. This means you have to give a persuasive performance not only with your words but also through your body language and facial expression,” Mark said.
There you go, these are only 10 of the most common media interview mistakes. There could be a lot more.
But if you take note of these and make sure you don’t commit any of these mistakes, it will go a long way in your preparation for a successful media interview.
If you need help in preparing for your next media interview or if you have any question on any of the media interview mistakes we talked about here, contact us. We’ll be happy to help or discuss things with you. Looking forward to hearing from you.
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