Say the right thing in interviews

media interviews may be the scariest thing you do. What happens if you say the wrong thing or the journalist misquotes you? No wonder some people think it’s better to skip these interviews altogether. Don’t let fear get in the way of you getting your message out.
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By Jenni Dow

Face it, media interviews may be the scariest thing you do. What happens if you say the wrong thing or the journalist misquotes you? No wonder some people think it's better to skip these interviews altogether. Don't let fear get in the way of you getting your message out. Remember media interviews are marketing opportunities, so don't miss out. Here are some tips to make sure you never say the wrong thing again.

1. Determine what it is you want to convey—this is your key message.
Key messages are what you want to communicate to your audience. The media is the conduit or the gatekeeper. So, you will need to repeat your key messages in order to get it to your real audience—whoever is reading it, or seeing the interview on television, or hearing it on radio. Write out your key messages. You shouldn't have more than two or three. Those key messages should convey clear benefits of you, your products, or your store to your audience.

Try to come up with examples that support your key messages, as well—that way, you will feel less like a “broken record” when you repeat your messages during the interview. With practice, you should be able to include one of your key messages with every question answered. In fact, each time you say it, you may say it better, and the interviewer will be even more likely to pick it up.

2. Take control of the interview.
Before you are even asked a question, you can take charge of the media opportunity by beginning with an opening statement that includes your key messages. For example, as soon as you are introduced, thank them for their interest and launch into what it is you want them to know and remember (these are your key messages). Aside from trade media, many reporters often know very little about you, your company, or what you do. You can actually help the journalist by taking control—and you get to say exactly what you want. Interviews are great opportunities to share your marketing messages with the world.

Be forewarned, however: When dealing with the trade journalists – at least those that know their business or do their homework – taking control may be interpreted negatively, so don't plow ahead too quickly or make it too lengthy. You can likely judge very shortly if you should go on or not.

3. Assume everything you say is “on the record.”
This may never be an issue for you, but my advice is always to assume everything you say or do is “on the record,” including any pre- and post interview chit-chat. The interview begins the minute you greet the reporter, whether he or she starts asking questions immediately or not. If you know a reporter or trust the person, you can however from the start establish some ground rules about what is on- and off-the-record, and then be sure to preface any off-the-record comments about how they are indeed off-the-record. But this kind of trust can take time to develop. Learn to listen to your intuition about a person and his or her ethics.

Remember that "off-the-record" is different from "background." Background information can be used but just can't be quoted as coming from you.

4. Get to the point.
Don't ramble on and on making a reporter try to figure out what it is you are trying to get across. State and restate your key messages clearly and concisely.

5. Learn to be comfortable when there's a pause in the interview.
One of the things I learned to do as a journalist was to wait several seconds before asking my interviewee the next question. These pauses feel like an eternity and it's a natural reaction to try to “fill them up” by talking. I discovered things about the people I was interviewing that were much more interesting than what I thought I might when I began the interview. It's great for the reporter, it may not be great for you. Stick to your key messages and don't offer more than the reporter has asked for.

6. Wrap up the interview.
Some experienced reporters will ask at the end, “Is there anything you want to add?” This is a great time to summarize your key points and give a solid, well-thought-out quote. If the reporter doesn't ask, take the time at the end to give your own summary.

So, the interview went great and you repeated your key messages enough so you're certain the journalist got your point. What happens next? After the interview, encourage the reporter to call back if they need or want more information or have additional questions. If you've promised to get an answer to a question you couldn't answer during the interview, do it. Or have someone else do it.

Finally, even the best spokespeople sometimes get misquoted. But make sure you aren't being too sensitive. If you think you were misquoted, and you think it was harmful, call and talk to the journalist, but avoid being confrontational. He or she will only go on the defensive. Compliment the writer, bring up the points you want to address, then listen to what he or she says in response. Remember, you cannot completely control what the reporter writes in the article or how he or she edits the tape. That's why it is critical to be concise and repeat your key messages as often as possible. There's less room for error and you won't have to worry about saying the wrong thing again.

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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