Confidence and preparation are the key to nailing any interview. As an attorney I used to be nervous appearing before a judge. Not only was there a judge and a courtroom filled with attorneys and bystanders, but opposing counsel was there at the other table waiting to object or enforce the rules of procedure. However, with preparation and practice comes confidence and comfort.
The same goes for an interview with a reporter. Now granted it is easier to talk with a reporter by phone, but in person, in front of a microphone (or smartphone) or camera, the nerves start to take over. In engaging a reporter like a judge, confidence is key. If this is an issue you are comfortable with you should treat as you would any conversation. In general,
- Answer only the questions asked
- Speak in soundbites
- Know what you want to say and say it
- Stick to your key messages
- Always go back to your key messages
Sometimes, however, you are caught off-guard and the subject is not positive. You are not prepared and not sure what they will ask you.
If that happens and you find the reporter asking questions and abruptly interrupting you, such as asking more questions before you can answer the first one, know that the reporter has an agenda, and it is not to make you look good.
If that is the case, wait for the reporter to finish and don't feel like you have to answer everything he or she asks.
Take a deep breath, look at the reporter in the eye with confidence and say,
"You asked a lot of questions, so let me try to answer them."
While you don't have to answer everyone, just stick to your key messages.
Never be confrontational -- it makes great television, but does not make you look great. Watch out for reporters in this situation ask you the same questions differently. If that happens just stick to your key messages.
Investigative reporters do their homework and chances are, if they come to you, they may already have produced the story and are just waiting to throw in a sound bite from you. Sometimes investigative reporters work on stories for years, file it away and just continue to work on it until they are ready to air it.
Sometimes, a reporter will act dumb or seem ignorant. Don't assume they are because they are not -- it is a tactic -- just like silence is used to get someone to talk. If a reporter asks you to explain something, ask them what exactly they want to know. Be as brief as possible and don't talk just to talk - just stick to your message.
Ninety-five of the reporters out there are professional and great people. In fact, you may find in some instances they are too friendly. Sometimes in preparing for a three minute story, they may spend an hour or more with you and you will talk casually. Feel free to talk but be guarded about what you say about the subject of the interview.
Again, think as if a judge is instructing the jury that while they can go home they cannot talk to anyone about the case, read anything about the issues or go on Twitter or Facebook at risk of tainting the jury.
So off camera or when the microphone is down, stick to sports and the weather.
The best advice is never saw anything that you will regret if your mother, spouse or children read it, see it or hear it. Be prepared, Be Confident and Leverage the Media to help you meet your goals in protecting your reputation.