How to Control A Media Interview

Five Hints to Help You Control a Media Interview

As experts in analyzing and coaching communication skills, the media trainers at First Take know only too well that most business executives find it hard to communicate their own expertise. They are often being steered or controlled by a reporter during interviews. Ironically it is usually the executives who feel most strongly that they do not need media training that are the ones that fail to effectively communicate during media interviews. They aren’t able to convey their messages properly and frequently the reporter or journalist is able to back them into a corner and use their words against them. Making a point in an interview takes a whole different skill-set to making a point in the boardroom.

Taking control is the ability to steer the conversation towards the topic that you want to discuss. But it’s no easy task to control a media interview.

control a media interviewRemember that reporters are trained (and highly practiced) to control the interview process as well. We can see it every day on the news where a veteran reporter or news anchor steers up an interview along the narrative they want the story to flow along. John Humphrys on the Today Programme or Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight are the two interviewees our trainees often fear the most. If they are in the mood they ruthlessly go after their interviewee until they get the answer they want or make their interviewee sound like an idiot. But whether it’s via this more overtly aggressive interviewing style or through subtler means such as pretending to be nice to an interviewee to make them feel comfortable and get them to open up, taking control in media interviews can be tough. You need to learn the right skills to fight your corner.

Here’s some media training tips to get in the driving seat and control a media interview. Remember if a reporter openly disagrees with your opinion make it a point to ask a question that will redirect the conversation to a subject you want to discuss.

1. Don’t wing it

Just because you are an expert on a subject doesn’t mean that you can spontaneously communicate in the most effective way. In fact it usually takes a great deal of practice to answer questions in a way that most will be able to understand. Practice makes it perfect. Plan your answers.

2. Shape your message

Giving a speech is different from media Interview. When you give a speech, your audience listens. But during interviews reporters wag the dog. So don’t remain passive and plough on with your message regardless of the question. The goal here is to answer their questions so you don’t look like you are dodging the issue and then move onto communicating your message.

3. Stay on track with your message

Let’s assume that you’ve done your homework. You’ve prepared your message and have held a practice interview with a colleague or a member of your family. Then during the interview the reporter asks you a question that’s not directly related to the topic you want to discuss. What are you going to do? Get sidetracked into a whole different story and potentially give a damaging quote on an unfamiliar topic? If you feel that the interview is going the wrong way, you need to make a point of bringing the conversation back to your message. This is where your bridging skills come in.

4. Learn how to BRIDGE

This is probably one of the major skills you need to learn so you can control the interview. Bridging is the technique that allows you to deflect any attempts to derail your message. Bridge phrases help you steer the conversation back on track. Bridging phrases that you can use during interviews include:

“Before we get off that topic, let me just add…”
“Let me put that in perspective.”
“It’s important to remember that…”

5. Plan your headline points

Before you being the interview imagine the headline you’d like on the story if it were represented as a newspaper article. The headline is your message summary. It’s the points or facts that you want the reporter and your audience to walk away thinking about and it should be your main focus to get them mentioned in your interview.

Do you have a media interview coming up? Downloading our free Media Interview Preparation Template will really help you focus your thoughts and get you prepared for the interview. Filling it in should take about 10 minutes. If you complete it and return it to us, we will be happy to get back to you ASAP with bespoke tips to help you make the very best impression possible. This is a totally free service.

Remember that finding out how to control a media interview is a skill that you need to learn. Working with a media trainer will help you enhance this skill and speed up the learning process.

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