Tips and Tricks for Media Interviews & Public Speaking Appearances
Here is where you will find media training tips on ways to prepare for the media interview – what to ask before the media interview, how to generate the perfect communications agenda and craft your key message points and soundbites, how to think like a reporter and know the questions she will ask. In our media training courses you will learn how to direct the interview where you want it to go and get the reporter to ask the questions you want to answer. With several on-camera practice (but very realistic) interviews, you’ll learn how to deliver YOUR message with confidence, clarity, and credibility.
Articles on presentation skills include effective use of voice and speech, posture and breath control, how to structure your presentation, how to design a captivating intro and a compelling conclusion, how to handle the Q&A. In our presentation skills training we teach you how to effectively use visual aids such as PowerPoint, how to overcome stage fright and any fear of public speaking. In a word, you will become a more effective, dynamic and confident presenter – in any public speaking situation.
Media Training Tips and Presentation Skills Training articles are updated on a regular basis. In the meantime, if you have other questions about our media training or presentation skills training programs, please submit your questions on our contact form. We’re always happy to help out.
Tips & Tricks for Media Interviews
Make Sure You Are Understood
It’s one thing to discuss a particular subject with colleagues as a subject matter expert (SME); it’s quite another to discuss that subject with someone who does not have your background or professional expertise in that particular area and have them fully comprehend what you are talking about.
In every field of interest there is jargon, and typically a fair number of acronyms; we use them every day. I sometimes think the military could not function without its acronyms.
In the world of film and video production the juicer may get a stinger so the grips can set a 5-K and a baby or a tweenie on a Gary Coleman in front of the pancake or half-apple to get the martini before magic hour. Clear?
In this case the juicer is the electrician, stinger is an extension cord, grips are production hands, a 5-K is a very powerful production light, a baby or tweenie is a very small light sometimes set as a practical (a desk lamp in the background), Gary Coleman is a small tripod C-stand on which lights are mounted, a pancake or half-apple is a small wooden box the talent or actors stand on to give them more height or elevation in the shot (Alan Ladd, the famous cowboy actor of the 1940s and 1950s used these extensively to give a boost to his 5’4” height, especially in face-to-face shots with his leading lady); the martini is the last shot of the day and magic hour is that 20-minute period just before sunset when the sunlight paints the surroundings in a beautiful golden hue – leading to a magical shot.
Television news stories could be a package, a VO-SOT, a live-shot, or even a look-live. Everyone get that? Unless you’ve worked in television news, probably not. The “voh-sot” (VO-) is the voice-over – the narrative the anchor reads over the video (B-roll) of the story, which then cuts to the sound-on-tape (-SOT) – the full audio and video of the person being interviewed on camera. As a reporter I would also do a lock-out – the sign-off at the end of the story. I’m Michael Drake, for Channel (whatever) News. Yet mention lock-out to a regular person and they will think you lost your keys and cannot get into your house.
It’s the same when doing a radio or television interview, whether it’s the traditional stand-up (where the reporter stands in front of you typically with her back to the camera, asks a question and then turns the microphone toward you) or an in-set piece (where you are live on the news set with the news anchor). We used these terms every day in the newsroom, and naturally they were quite clear to us. However, mention these to the typical person and you will probably be met with a blank stare.
In any discussion, especially during a media interview the idea is to communicate – to be understood.
So always remember you are talking to the typical viewer – not a colleague who has your same level of understanding of the subject. Talk to the interviewer as you would to your spouse, your Aunt Emma across the dining room table, or your neighbor across the backyard fence. If you do use a bit of jargon, immediately explain what it is.
Your objective is not to impress, but to be understood.
Michael Drake is a speech coach and presentation skills trainer who has given presentations to audiences ranging from 20 to 2500 and has helped more than 4,000 individuals improve their communications skills and overcome their fear of public speaking.
Selecting the Right Company – It’s that important
I’m constantly amazed by the “credentials” some media trainers present. Some served as producers helping to put a newscast together. Some so-called media trainers merely booked interview guests for the program host. Still others have no experience whatsoever working in a print or broadcast news center.
If you’ve never sailed a boat, how can you teach sailing. If you’ve never flown a plane, how can you teach flying. Likewise, if you’ve never asked the tough questions, or more importantly, had to craft the messages and answer the questions posed by an investigative reporter, how can you possibly teach media response techniques.
If you are choosing a media training company for yourself or your organization, ask the tough questions just as a reporter would ask of you. Find out their experience as a reporter and then their experience as the media spokesperson – if they have ever been on the other side of the microphone responding to reporters’ tough questions. If they have ever conducted a news conference, if they have ever done live interviews, or appeared on the major broadcast and cable news outlets, or had to appear in front of a media horde during a crisis event. (We have!)
As we said at the top of this article, if you’ve never done it, how can you teach it? Whether you select the Media Skills Workshop training program – the most comprehensive in the marketplace today – or another company, compare credentials and background. It’s that important.
At the Media Skills Workshop we have three decades of experience working as news reporter, producer, anchor, public affairs host and presenter. We have conducted literally hundreds of interviews. As a public affairs officer and media spokesperson, we have responded to reporters’ tough questions in hundreds of interviews and news conferences on the other side of the microphone, even in crisis situations. We have been on local and national media – repeatedly.
All of our workshops include on-camera interviews dealing with your specific issues, recorded interviews that are played back, critiqued, and used to improve your ability to refine and then deliver your message with confidence and clarity. We teach you how to develop your communications agenda, how to craft the perfect soundbite or newspaper quote, and take the interview where YOU want it to go to effectively get YOUR message across.
It’s not just what you say, but also how you say it that cements your image in the media and with the public.
It’s a skill set that requires training in the proper techniques, preparation and practice.
So learn from the pros – those who have been there and done it.
Michael Drake has worked as a reporter, producer and anchor in radio and television news, and as a print reporter. He has also served as the public affairs officer – the media spokesperson – in hundreds of media encounters on local and national media. He currently works as a media and presentation skills trainer.
When the Reporter Calls: Part 1
SFX: Phone Rings
“Hi, this is John Jones from Channel 3 News. We’re doing a story on (fill in the blank) and we’d like to come out and talk with you.”
“How about one o’clock. Will that be all right?”
“Uh, well, I guess, sure.”
“Great! We’ll see you then.”
Absolutely, positively dead WRONG!
When the reporter calls and asks for an interview as part of a story he is working on, there are some things you need to find out first. This will help you avoid walking blindly into a possible ambush interview and perhaps looking like an idiot on the 6:00 news.
1. Find out what the story is about. Does it deal specifically with your organization or is it a generic story about an issue or a development related to what you do and the reporter merely wants you to comment on it from your perspective? Often a national news story will generate local coverage: how will this affect our own local community? If a disaster, could it happen here? Are we prepared? How would we handle it?
2. What angle are they taking? Does the story have a particular slant to it? Does the reporter have any preconceived notions that may cast you into a defensive role, or is he merely gathering background information? Often when I worked as a reporter I was sent out to do a story with a particular bent, but after talking with the subject matter expert(s) I found my story had done a 180. An objective reporter will inform his producer and report the story according to the facts. Will you need to turn this story around? And how will you do it?
3. Who is the reporter? What is her specialty? Is this a general assignment reporter who does stories on everything from car wrecks, or the recent strange weather, to shopping center grand openings? Or does she cover a specific beat, such as science and technology, or the environment? If she has a specialization, say banking and economics, and you are the president of a bank, chances are she will be much more knowledgeable about the issues (and as such may be more demanding in the interview). I always knew most of the reporters, including their backgrounds and reporting styles, in the media markets where I worked as a PAO. If contacted by one I did not know or one new to the market, I did a quick internet search to find something about them, including samples of their previous work.
4. Why are they talking to you? Are you considered the local expert, the “go-to guy” and they want your take on a new development or issue related to your field? Did your company or organization do something wrong? Are you under investigation? Are there allegations, even though as yet unproved? Will you have to defend yourself and your organization? (More on that in future blogs.)
5. What is their deadline? Is the story for tonight’s news or tomorrow’s paper? Or are they just getting information for a future story, in which case you, and the reporter, have more time. Finding the deadline is very important and is one of the first questions I always asked as the public information officer. If they need the interview today, it is critically important to return their call on a timely basis. If a reporter calls you at 10:00 in the morning, and you don’t return the call until 4:30 in the afternoon, chances are you have already missed your window of opportunity and the reporter has found another source and someone else will have told your story instead of you. If for television, unless it’s for the late news, the story is already produced. If for print, the reporter has probably already written the story and your quote will merely end up as a side note – if included at all. So the earlier you return the call, the better the chances you have of telling your story from your point of view or even “driving” the story from your perspective. The last thing you want to see on the news or read in the paper is “We tried contacting Mr. Smith with XYZ Company, but he wouldn’t talk to us,” or “Our calls were not returned.” So be considerate of the reporters’ deadlines and allow sufficient time for them to get your information firsthand and incorporate it into the story in your words and not someone else’s.
These are just four of the 10 things you need to do before consenting to a media interview. We’ll have more in future postings on this site. Stay tuned…
When the Media Reporter Calls: Part 2
In our earlier column we covered some of the preliminaries before consenting to a media interview: Find out who the reporter is, their specialty, what angle they are taking on the story, and very importantly, their deadline. Here are more items to take care of before doing the interview.
6. What’s the setting? For breaking news, the interview will typically be at the site of the event. It could be one-on-one following a news conference. It may be at your location. Do they want to interview you in your office (probably not as that requires hauling in and setting lights and the background is not great). Or would they prefer an outside setting where the name of company or another identifying landmark is prominent.
7. Live or taped? If it’s a typical media request and it’s television, find out if it’s live or taped. They may want to do a live shot, or even a “look live.” If that’s the case, you will be asked several questions, generally four or five and each one has air – there’s no going back. If it’s taped and you don’t like the way you phrased a certain response, you can always do it again. Remember, the reporter wants a good sound bite, a good story. If you flub a line during a taped interview you can always stop and say, “Let me try that again.” OR “Let me put that another way.” Sometimes the reporter – and I did this a lot as a working reporter – will ask you the same question just phrased a bit differently. “Earlier you spoke about…. Can you tell me again….” This is typically to get a better, more fluid and more concise response.
8. Ask what visuals will help tell the story. If it’s at the scene of breaking news, the television b-roll coverage or the photos for print news is already there. Otherwise it may be something you can set up for the story. It could be cars rolling off the assembly line, or construction of houses in the background, the team practicing in the background. This will help determine the setting for the interview. If it is to be shot in your office or a conference room, think what visuals you have on hand that would contribute to the story. I’ve done numerous interviews in my office where I acquired engineer drawings or renderings of a major project and placed them on the wall or a white board behind me. I have done others where we unrolled drawings – sometimes on a conference table or even over the hood of the car – and the videographer got shots of the reporter and me reviewing them, fingers pointing to certain areas, reaction shots, etc.. Remember, television is a visual medium – video is a huge part of the story, and often can reinforce your point. Newspaper reporters will often ask for graphics, photos, and other visuals that will accompany the story. Always think what is visual that will help tell the story and explain it to the audience.
9. Who else are they talking to? Who else is contributing to the story? Will they be reinforcing your point, adding to the story in a positive manner from your point of view. Or are they in opposition and may counter your statement. Will you have to refute a position from another individual or defend your own?
10. Set the time and place. And then don’t be late. News is a very fast-paced business. A television reporter and videographer are usually racing from one story to another and cannot afford to sit around and wait for you to return from a late lunch. If you are going to be late, make sure you call them and apprise them of the situation, or reschedule. They may be able to rearrange their schedule somewhat and get to you later.
When I worked as a reporter I typically did two stories a day, sometimes more. We did not have time to sit around and wait for our interview subject. It was always “on to the next story.”
11. Get the proper clearances and authorizations. Do you need to check with security for them to come into the building or the plant or the military base? Are any special clearances required? If so, get them and have them ready (if possible) when the news crew arrives. And unless you have absolute autonomy, let your boss know what you are doing. No one likes surprises.
12. Finally, prepare your communications agenda and practice. Ask yourself the questions out loud and respond in the same way.
More on this in future postings.
Michael Drake has worked as a reporter, producer and anchor in radio and television news, and as a print reporter. He has also served as the public affairs officer – the media spokesperson – in hundreds of media encounters on local and national media. He currently works as a media trainer.
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