Media Training 101: how to survive a tough interview

Nov 6, 2017
Communications Training

OK, straight up, let me get this out there — this is not how you tackle the tough interview:

In all my 25 years in the media, I’ve seen some unusual responses to tough or direct questions, but this response from Australian politician Tony Abbott was the most bizarre by a long shot.

 But, don’t worry; this blog isn’t about Tony Abbott’s extraordinary behaviour. Instead I want to share with you a few simple media training techniques that will prevent you going into meltdown (or head-nodding central) if you’re ever faced with a difficult press interview.

Remember, not all media interviews are hostile

In the media we love a bit of a ding-dong! We know it makes for a riveting audience experience. After all, this is the world of entertainment. And nothing ticks the boxes like a bit of conflict. But, that said, let me just stress from the outset, not every media interview you feature in will be hostile. The majority aren’t! In fact, rarely will you feel the heat, but it’s surprising how many avoid media interviews altogether on the assumption that every single one will be a terrifying experience. So, let me allay those fears because in avoiding media interviews you’re missing out on an incredible opportunity.

You’ll know when you’re likely to be in “tough interview mode”. Put it this way; it’s rarely when you’re discussing your new 101 Ways to Make Tofu Exciting cookbook. It’s far more likely to be when you or your company are involved in a spot of trouble. You’re defending a decision, an action, or a behaviour. You’re suggesting something controversial. Basically, you’re on the back foot, and you know the questions will have a certain intensity.

So, here are your top five things to do to prevent the grilling leaving you scarred for life.

Prepare for your interview

First of all, be prepared. Who’s going to interview you; what’s the audience demographic? What time of day will it be and will it be live or prerecorded? What are they looking for? Will anyone else be in the interview?

 These are simple questions to ask, but knowing the answers will mean you can frame your messages more easily and more successfully. In this phase I also recommend you and your colleagues or family put you in the mix. See what questions they would ask you if they were the interviewer. There is a good chance that the journalist will ask something similar — it’s where the interest lies, after all. Prepare all your positives and negatives into two columns and practice moving those negative issues over to the positive column. You’ll hopefully end up with three clearly defined messages you’d like to get out plus three neat and tidy little examples that allow your audience to follow what you’re talking about.

Show compassion

Secondly, show compassion. For goodness’ sake, think as your audience would think. What do they want to hear, see or read? They want to know that you understand the seriousness of what you’ve done or are doing and the impact that this might have. And then demonstrate what you are doing to resolve the situation — not by protecting you and your company, but by showing that you care about the impact you are having. This has to be done through the use of examples and proof. If these aren’t well selected and honest, the media won’t believe you or trust you, and you’ll find yourself in even deeper water.

Give the media a good story

Thirdly, give the media a story. This is a media interview and not a conversation. What do I mean by that? In normal “everyday life” a conversation is what we know best. I ask you a question; you respond. You ask me a question; I respond. In media interviews, you have a task: to take every question and turn it into an opportunity to deliver one of your messages. As long as you’re giving the media something of value that is interesting, they will go with it. The media wants a story. If you’re not giving one, again, you’ll feel more heat.

Perfect your media skills

Fourthly, get your technique right. Avoid very short answers as you’ll come across as someone evasive. Avoid long answers as you will bore your audience. Leave them wanting more, not less. Don’t just answer the question; bridge to one of your messages and examples, thereby taking control of the interview and showing your interviewer that you’re not there to be smashed.

Don’t show them they’ve got you on the run

Finally, don’t get rattled. Throwing your microphone down and storming out isn’t cool. Saying ‘no comment’ isn’t cool. Stay calm, stay focused and stick with delivering the messages you prepared. Believe it or not, if you can do this well, your opportunities in the media will be countless. It’s hard, but with practice, technique and training, you can truly succeed and, dare I say it, you might even enjoy the challenge.

If you’d like to be more confident handling the media and think some media training is just what you, your team or your executive suite needs, get in touch with Lush – The Content Agency. We offer media training, including executive media training, in Perth.


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