In the first installment of this mini media training, I wrote about what piques the interest of the press. We talked about the fact that landing an interview is not a goal in and of itself, but a means to an end. Then we discussed the importance of crafting a core message.
Part 2 was all about dealing with journalists and how to handle tricky questions. At this point you might think you’re ready for reporters who will happily hold your feet to the fire.
Not so fast. You might get burned!
First, let me ask you this:
Should you always say YES to every interview request?
Most people are flattered when the media shows interest. Why waste a good opportunity to generate some publicity, right? Well, that remains to be seen.
Compare an interview request to a job offer. Would you take any offer that comes your way, before even knowing what it’s about and whether or not you can handle it? I certainly hope not. In this phase, you need to be the one asking the questions. It shows you’re a pro.
Here’s what you minimally need to know and why:
How did they hear about you?
This should give you an idea of why they want to talk to you in the first place. Secondly, it tells you something about the effectiveness of your media campaign. Did they get your press release? Were they following you on Twitter? Have they read your blog? Did someone recommend you?
Is the interview for radio or television? Will it appear online or in print?
A different medium requires a different strategy and preparation.
We live in the age of the iPad and enriched, mixed media. Just because they’re booking you for a radio program, doesn’t mean you won’t be on television. Some stations broadcast their radio shows live on TV during the day. Newspapers have online editions that feature video.
Find out beforehand what the deal is. You don’t want to be dressed for comfort in a sloppy T-shirt and an old pair of jeans when a photographer shows up for a glamour shoot you forgot to ask about.
Which network, program, show, website, paper or magazine?
If you know the outlet, do you wish to be associated with it? Does the network or magazine have a particular political or religious affiliation? Are you comfortable with that? Are you hoping to reach a new audience? Are you ready to defend your views?
A lawyer appeared on what he thought would be a show about the legal aspects of divorce. He ended up being grilled by a minister-turned-radio host about why he was “helping the devil break up marriages.”
A freelance writer was invited to talk about her novel featuring two gay characters. Ninety percent of the questions were about her personal life and views on same sex marriage. She left the studio saying: “I wish I had known. Why didn’t anybody tell me this wasn’t going to be about my book?”
Which segment of the program/show or which section in the paper will you appear in?
A professional photographer had just opened a new studio in town. A reporter stopped by and asked a few questions. To his dismay, the photographer found his interview under the “Hobby” section of the local paper.
A voice-over talent gave an interview about his work and discovered his story in the business section under the heading: “Ten easy ways to make money in a bad economy.”
If you’ve never heard of the show, site or paper that has requested an interview, ask for a detailed description and do your own research.
It’s simple: watch the show, read the paper and visit the website to see what you’re getting yourself into. Good journalists do their homework, so why shouldn’t you?
Don’t complain afterwards that you didn’t know what was waiting for you. Nobody will ever force you to say “yes” to an interview (unless it’s in your contract).
Ask about the audience/readers and its reach: numbers, demographics and distribution.
Being interviewed often means walking a fine line between explaining something in terms most people will understand, without treating them like toddlers. There’s no need to dumb your story down, but you don’t want to go over people’s heads either.
I’m sure you’ve seen experts that seem to live in their own little bubble, totally unaware of the fact that the rest of the world has no clue what they’re talking about. They’re using jargon without realizing it is jargon, or abbreviations no one’s ever heard of.
For my non-voice-over friends, what do you think the following means:
“As I was hooking my shotgun up to my pre, I noticed that I shouldn’t speak off-axis because of the tight pick-up pattern this Sennheiser has. One of my SaVoA friends had warned me about it.”
I beg your pardon?
Can you speak English please?
Now, had this been an interview for a voice-over in crowd, you’d probably get away with it, although too many people still don’t know what SaVoA stands for. As for the rest of the world… you would have lost your listeners in the first five seconds and they’re already surfing for a better channel.
The key is to avoid technical language and to customize your content. If you do that, the audience will get the feeling that you’re talking directly to them (which is what you should be doing anyway). It’s a way to create rapport.
The following question is an interviewer’s favorite:
“Can you give me an example?”
This is a perfect opportunity to customize your content because you can pick something your audience can relate to.
Let’s assume you design websites and you’d love to get some more clients. The answer to the question: “So, what kinds of websites have you designed?” depends on your audience.
If you’re doing a show about business, you’ll highlight your corporate sites. If the audience is more artsy, you’ll pick sites you’ve designed for various artists.
Is the interview taped or live?
If you’re not familiar with differences in format, you might say: “It shouldn’t really matter. My story is my story.”
Those who have experienced the stress of a live radio or television broadcast know otherwise.
Personally, I love live. It’s a very different energy. People are on the edge of their seats, creating carefully orchestrated spontaneity. Time is always ticking. Every minute needs to be accounted for.
“We have 19 seconds till the end of the commercial break. Everybody stand by. We’re live in three, two, one….”
Live is exciting. Live can be stressful. What if you mess up? Forget retakes!
Some people believe you have less control when you’re going live. I disagree. Why? Because live cannot be edited.
When you’re on, you’re on, and you can take charge of the airwaves. If you don’t like where the interview is going, build a bridge (see part 2) and get to your core message as soon as you can.
Every minute you spend on what you want to say, means less time for what the interviewer wants to hear (unless you’re on the same page). At some point he’ll run out of time. The shorter the interview, the more important this becomes.
Compare this to the long, prerecorded interview. If your Grand Inquisitor thinks you’re not giving him a straight answer, he’ll simply go back to the question until you’ve answered it to his satisfaction. If he doesn’t like what he hears, he can cut it or shorten it, citing editorial freedom. He can summarize your position in his words, not yours.
Here’s the flip side of that coin. Because you’re not live, you can stop the tape at any time. If you don’t like the answer you’ve just given, you can start over. Do you need to look up some info? Go ahead.
As a reporter, I often had to ask people to pick it up from the start because they had given me a lengthy answer and I only had time for a soundbite.
If you’re new at this, see if you can do your first interviews semi-live. Just go for it it as if you’re on the air, even though it’s prerecorded. It’s good practice. If you manage to do everything in one take, you’re done. If you happen to get stuck, you just pick it up from there.
How long is the actual interview? How much air time do I get?
These are two very different things. Just because you have been recording for an hour, doesn’t mean you’ll be on the air for an hour. I hate to say it, but most people aren’t that interesting and most interviewers aren’t that good. On top of that, most of us are not interested in listening to the same person go on and on and on for sixty minutes.
We’ve been conditioned to the never-ending interruption of the commercial break. Attention spans are getting shorter. We have too much to do and not enough time. I’m surprised you’re still reading this!
If the magic doesn’t happen in the first sixty seconds, we move on, unless what we read, see or hear really speaks to us.
If you have trouble getting to the point in real life, you’ll be in trouble during an interview when the pressure’s on. Don’t worry. These things can be fixed. That’s why media trainers make a very decent living.
So, find out how much time you have to get your message across and prepare for your interview using the accordion model. An accordion expands and contracts. Think of what you want to talk about as an accordion.
If you have less time, you use the short version, but always be ready to expand. Let’s say you expect to be on air for five minutes. What if the next guest gets stuck in traffic and can’t make it to the studio? All of a sudden you’ve doubled your time. Make sure you don’t run out of material!
Unfortunately, the opposite is true too. You were promised a four-minute segment and then some breaking news cuts your time in half. In that case you better be ready to cut to the chase!
By the way, don’t ever trust your sense of timing. In my media trainings I always give my students thirty seconds to introduce themselves and mention one interesting fact we should know about them. Their intro is timed. Some people go on for three minutes before I cut them off and then they tell me: “Wow… that was really thirty seconds? It went by so fast!”
What are your questions?
I saved the most obvious for last because we tend to overlook the obvious. I have interviewed thousands of people and I can’t tell you how many of them simply said YES to my interview request, not knowing what I wanted to ask them. It has to do with human nature.
Deep down inside we all long for attention and acknowledgement; for someone who truly listens. Getting in the papers, on radio or on TV must mean we matter!
But if you don’t know what they want to know, how do you know you want to be on their show?
Remember what I said in part one? The biggest beginner’s mistake is to underestimate what it takes to be interviewed. This is not some normal conversation. It’s more of a purposeful presentation disguised as a normal conversation…. with possibly millions of people watching over your shoulder.
So, have you thought about how to present yourself on television? Should you just be yourself or get all dressed up for the occasion?
Next time we’ll talk about the importance of image!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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