I find it helpful to visualize upcoming discussions that might be delicate or difficult. Envisioning the conversation and considering what to say beforehand helps me face the discussion more confidently.
As a reporter, especially when doing investigative pieces, I also did this. Anticipating what were bound to be sticky conversations enabled me to thread through them more thoughtfully.
Now on the PR side, I find the approach aids my coaching of executives who face interviews with the media.
Regardless of the topic, many business leaders get nervous with the media. It’s important to show openness (or at least a sense of neutrality) in an interview— especially one that could be tinged with tension.
Here are 29 tips for prepping interview subjects before they meet the press. Pick a few, or all of them, to brief your clients or boss before the next interview. Tell them to:
1. Picture themselves in the interview, confidently and smoothly answering questions (this really works).
2. Stay calm.
4. Use a tone of voice that’s patient and neutral.
5. Write out a few brief, key points they want to be sure they make in the interview.
6. Practice saying those out loud (yes, out loud, just as they would be responding to the journalist).
7. Let the journalist finish the questions without interrupting.
8. Feel free to repeat the question back to the journalist to get clarity about what was asked
9. Pause before answering.
10. Slow down the pace of their responses—that helps the reporter understand and accurately write down what was said.
11. Be reflective and thoughtful.
12. Give examples when possible.
13. Ask the journalist if the response was clear, if an answer got long-winded (this gives a fresh chance to restate it more succinctly), or…
14. Stop in the middle of a muddled answer and say, “Here’s a better way to put that…”
15. Avoid jargon.
16. Make sure the reporter knows the meaning of any acronym used, and…
17. Use the full phrase of any acronym first at least twice before using the shorthand for it during an interview—especially if being taped for broadcast.
18. Use language that a sixth grader would understand, but…
19. Make sure not to sound patronizing, just clear.
20. Never knowingly deceive.
21. Admit it if they don’t know the answer.
22. Offer to check on any facts that might not be known or right at hand.
23. Promise to get back as swiftly as possible.
24. And after promising that, make sure that happens.
25. Be as straightforward as possible – about what is known and what is unknown.
26. Use a signal phrase before making an important point to help focus the journalist’s attention on it, such as: “Here's why we think it’s the best way forward…”
27. Feel free, for an important point, to repeat the response for emphasis (but use this sparingly
or it can sound patronizing or odd).
28. Offer to help clarify any questions the journalist might have, afterwards.
29. Never, ever ask to review the story.
Becky Gaylord worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.;
Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including
The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal, and was associate editor of the
Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact.