THE INTERVIEW: FOCUS, CONVERSATION, CLARITY
- Be prepared
- Focus on your messages
- Be clear, concise and conversational
Now that you’ve thought about your audience and messages, you’ve laid the groundwork for an effective interview, and you’re probably feeling more prepared and relaxed than you would be otherwise. Now it’s time to think about dynamics of the interview itself.
It’s not just what you say: it’s how you say it
In preparing your messages, you’ve probably thought a lot about what you’re going to say. During the interview, it’s time to think more about how you say it. This is the case whether you’re on the phone talking one-on-one with a print reporter, or whether you’re in front of a TV audience of thousands.
You should always strive for sounding engaged, excited, and enthusiastic.
That’s important. Because boring is not good. In fact, if you sound bored, your audience surely will be. Even if your voice or face will not directly appear in the media, your level of enthusiasm communicates itself to the reporter and will shine through in the final product.
All too often, interviewees are either too intense or overly serious, or feel like they’ve got to sound “professional.” This is exactly what you don’t want to do. No matter what the topic, you need to sound like you’re talking with friends. Speak conversationally and in terms that the public can understand.
You’re not trying to impress colleagues. You’re trying to communicate with those who don’t know as much about certain topics and issues as you do.
The world-class economists and financial experts who have been dominating the airwaves and newsprint in recent months – those who keep returning again and again – have become regulars because they are adept at communicating complicated topics so that those of us who aren’t experts can understand.
Start thinking less about what you have to say, and more about how you’re going to say it. In other words, you are NOT talking to the interviewer. You’re talking to a particular audience. So it’s important to think about who will be hearing or seeing your messages and to communicate them accordingly.
It’s really no different than giving a lecture or making a speech. You’re trying to engage your audience!
Keep it clear. Keep it concise.
Steering the interview to your messages
A good interview is an active collaboration between the interviewer and interviewee. A good reporter is going to have done some background research on the topics they’re asking you about, and she or he will have prepared questions to ask you.
On the other hand, few journalists or others who may be interviewing you are specialists in your field or know the “lay of the land” the way you do. So, while they’re certainly hoping for answers to their questions, they’re also counting on you to go beyond that and fill in additional context – to answer the questions they haven’t asked.
Make your expertise and your knowledge of your field work for you! Since YOU are the expert, it should be relatively easy for you to steer the interview in the direction you want it to go, and convey the messages you want to get across.
Politicians, when they’re interviewed, will often repeat (maybe not word for word, but sometimes yes!) the primary points they want to make, and not wait for the interviewer to ask the question. While this can be annoying during a presidential debate, there’s a reason they do it: it works.
In order to emphasize your messages, it is absolutely essential that you repeat them during the interview! It not only increases the chances that those messages will get used in the media story, but it also tells the interviewer that those messages are important and that they'd better be included!
It may seem like you’re saying the same things over and over, but that’s OK. Repeating means driving home points you want made. In fact, we do a lot of repeating in this manual because we want our points to sink in!
While responding to a reporter’s questions, here are some catch phrases you can use to bring the interview back to YOUR messages:
- “But it’s really important to understand...”
- “To put our research into a larger context…”
- “The larger issue here is…”
- “But to come back to what I think the important issue is...”
- “Our findings could very well impact how…”
- “It’s important not to forget the big picture here...”
While you’re proceeding with the interview, the easiest thing is to forget everything you’ve just read here! So remember, stress your messages and go on the offensive.
- Make your messages compelling and thought-provoking.
- Be relaxed and be yourself. Being too serious doesn’t work.
- If you feel the media did a good job, tell them.