1. Prepare! Would you show up to a test, court hearing, job interview, or similar situation without preparing? No! So, don’t arrive at your press interview without preparation, and simulations. The inexperienced interviewee may ask, “What’s the big deal? I’m just supposed to talk about my job.”
You are indeed meant to talk about topics you know a lot about. So, why prepare? The reason is that words have a great impact, and wording errors or slips of the tongue can have a significant cost. There are endless examples, and if Hillary Clinton said in a debate with Donald Trump that she prepared for it, so should you.
Remember, the journalist prepares for the interview, too. They’ll read your previous interviews and perhaps speak to colleagues, employees, or competitors. They will arrive with prepared questions, and some may be challenging or uncomfortable.
2. Make sure that the purpose of the interview is clear to you and let it guide you. Media exposure should serve a business goal or promote specific agenda. Otherwise, don’t interview.
Most interviews and articles we read originated from a trigger or a specific event. Often, the interviewee takes the initiative because they want to convey a message, promote their company’s brand or sales, launch a new product, dispel negative rumors regarding their company, etc. An interview isn’t an everyday occurrence, and therefore it should have a clear and defined goal.
3. Define your message. What do you want to say? What image do you want to convey regarding yourself, your company, or your product? Who are you speaking to? Who is the target audience? Potential or existing clients? Shareholders? Regulators? Employees? business partners? Make sure you know who your audience is.
4. Avoid surprises. Prepare talking points, and get ready for the difficult questions. For most people, a press interview isn’t a daily occasion, and it can be stressful. It’s best to come up with answers in advance rather than be surprised.
Overprepare your messages and main information you want to present, articulate some key sentences you would like to use, and most importantly: prepare for the unaccepted. How can you do that? Try to guess what the questions will be, and come up with answers, in advance. Don’t be afraid of “difficult” or uncomfortable questions.
5. Be interesting. Imagine what you’d like the headline to be and prepare accordingly. Provide news-worthy information, something new, or even outrageous, that will catch the reporter and audience’s ear and become a headline.
6. Be knowledgeable. Facts and numbers are essential elements of press articles. Make sure to arrive with relevant and updated data. If a new technology is involved, make sure you know it well, and use a Public Relations professional to prepare for the interview. If necessary, offer to connect the interviewer to the relevant professional in your organization.
7. Speak the truth or stay silent. If you’ve decided to interview, you must be truthful. If you have something to hide, it may be best to skip the interview. The journalist’s job is to get to the truth. A good journalist will check the answers you give. If you lie, the lie may be exposed, and you might pay a high price for it. If you don’t want to lie but can’t reveal the truth for whatever reason, it’s best to avoid the interview or remain silent.
8. Maintain mutual respect. Mutual respect is at the core of the interview. Some interviewers (and interviewees) provoke antagonism or anger by asking seemingly vexing questions. On some occasions, it’s a tactic meant to undermine the interviewee’s self-control and lead to slip-ups. That brings us to the next point.
9. Demonstrate self-control and a positive attitude. You’re there to convey a message. Don’t forget your goal. Come with a positive attitude and a big smile, even when the questions are difficult or uncomfortable. Even if you are at a point of a company or a media crisis.
10. Off-record. Everything you say may be quoted, which means it may be published or broadcasted, including things you talk about before or after the interview. If there’s anything you wish to remain off the record, state that explicitly (in advance) or better yet, avoid saying it. It’s best to minimize such requests to minimum necessity.
11. You don’t have to answer every question. This isn’t a criminal investigation. If you don’t know the answer to a question, or the answer may put you in deep water, it’s best not to respond or to ask for some time to check the issue out and get back to the journalist later on.
12. The interview isn’t over ‘til it’s over. Things you say may be quoted even after the interview is over, and the recording device is turned off. Take that into consideration.
13. Don’t bad-mouth the competition. It’s always best to talk about how good your company is, what you do for your stakeholders, and so on. Focus on what you’re good at and not what others aren’t.
14. Do you know what your main message is? If there’s something crucial for you to be mentioned in the article, make sure to repeat it several times and even mention to the interviewer how essential it is for you.
15. Is the interview topic complex? Make sure your statements are clear. After the interview, you can send the interviewer a short text with the main points of your message, or an explanation of complex issues, that they can use in their writing.
16. Make sure that the accompanying photos are dignified and relevant to the interview’s topic. Your words aren’t the only important thing. How you look, what you wear, and where you are photographed also matter. For instance, the CEO of a company where most employees earn a minimum wage shouldn’t be photographed on their yacht. The CFO of a publicly-traded company will probably not be photographed in his shorts on the beach in an interview about the company’s yearly results.
The photo context matters, too. Plan how you wish to be photographed, in advance, and suggest an appropriate setting. If it’s a professional interview, it’s best to take professional photos: in the office, near the manufacturing line, with clientele in the field, next to graphs that show the company’s performance, etc. The dress code should be formal. Do what you need to be taken seriously and make sure your message gets out in the right way.