Ace the media interview: Practice makes perfect

You've returned the call you received from the newspaper or magazine reporter, and now the interview is set. It seems like a great marketing opportunity for your store (or your company) since you'll get to talk about all the cool stuff you sell and do. But how will you make sure you get your messages across in the way you want to? Jenni Dow tells you about how practice, practic, practice makes perfect.
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By Jenni Dow

You've returned the call you received from the newspaper or magazine reporter, and now the interview is set. It seems like a great marketing opportunity for your store (or your company) since you'll get to talk about all the cool stuff you sell and do. But how will you make sure you get your messages across in the way you want to?

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Interviews with journalists are not simply something to "get through" or a seat-of-the-pants endeavor (unless you have a ton o' experience). They require strategic thinking beforehand. Whatever you do, remember this: DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT WINGING IT. You must practice the interview. If you don't already work with a public relations person, consult with one, and consider getting media coaching. Just as in sports, a good coach will put you to the test and prepare you for whatever lies ahead.

Practice -- What are your messages?
Even if you've done a hundred interviews, you still need to practice. You should already know what your objectives are for the interview. What are the messages you want to convey? What is unique about what you have in your store? How do your products or services benefit the people who use them? Write out your key messages. (Many coaches will help you come up with a primary and secondary message, which you then slip into an interview as many times and in as many ways as possible.) While you're at it, write out an interview opening line that sets the tone and gives you an opportunity to state your key messages.

Practice -- Think about possible questions
If you aren't working with a professional who can help you, then you should be sure to write out potential questions you might be asked. The reporter may have given you an inkling of what he or she wants to cover. (You can always ask in advance for a list of basic questions or the main topic. Most reporters don't have a problem with that and you have a right to know.) Nevertheless, count on the basic: who, what, where, why, when and how questions. Think about these questions as they apply to you, your store or your products, and write out succinct answers that incorporate your key messages. Remember to give examples that colorfully illustrate your points. If you are doing a phone interview, you can keep this "cheat sheet" right in front of you. Even if you're doing a face-to-face interview, you can keep it on your desk and glance at it.

Practice -- In front of colleagues, cameras or mirrors
Once you've got your Q&A done, rehearse. Speak in front of a mirror, into a tape recorder, with colleagues, in front of a video camera, even in front of your bathroom mirror. Especially if this is for TV, you want to know how you look and how you sound. For instance, are you speaking in monotones? Do you cross your arms in front of you? Do you repeat one word constantly? Make adjustments to your presentation as well as to your answers. The more prepared you are, the more confident you'll be during the interview. There are very few people who are "naturals" at media interviews. Appearing to be a natural comes with practice.

One last bit of advice, don't forget to get right to the point. State and restate your key messages clearly and concisely. The more you practice, the better you'll do -- and the more likely the interview will go the way you want it to.

Jenni Dow is the president of Dow Marketing Communications Inc., a marketing public relations and media coaching firm. Dow helps clients transform their media opportunities into marketing successes. She coaches executives and managers to overcome their fears and use media interviews and speaking engagements to their advantage. Reach her at JenniDow@aol.com.

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