A free press is a blessing for democracy. But too few people in business truly understand what motivates the media, and so too often end up falling foul of this capricious friend. Templar consultant and former financial journalist, Charlie Corbett, shares seven rules to follow if you want to come across well in interviews.
We are blessed in the UK to have a free press. And, on World Press Freedom Day, it is right to remember all those journalists whose lives are daily threatened by despotic regimes all over the world. But a free – often unruly – press, while a beacon of democracy, can also be a minefield for people who work in business and finance.
Too few people truly understand what motivates journalists to write the kinds of stories they do, and too many people make fundamental blunders when they are interviewed by the media, both for print and for broadcast.
Here are some tips for getting clear, powerful messages across during press interviews, and avoiding some of the most common pitfalls.
1. Learn the rules: There’s no such thing as off the record. Stay alert. Journalists can be friendly, but they are not your friends. Remember, they cannot print or broadcast what you don’t say.
2. Think about the audience: You are not speaking to the journalist, you are speaking to their audience. Avoid all jargon and vacuous generalities – ‘we’re an innovative solutions provider’ etc. – and stick to simple, human language. Entertain and inform people with engaging stories to back up your points.
3. Be prepared, but not scripted: Try to work out the journalist’s agenda. Anticipate potentially difficult questions and prepare answers, but never rely on a pre-prepared script. You will come across as wooden and rehearsed – a robot – and people will rapidly lose interest.
4. Be clear on the points you want to get across: No more than three simple messages. Journalists think in headlines, and so should you. Come up with strong (original) soundbites that articulate your message clearly and succinctly. On air, you will rarely have more than a minute or two to get your points across.
5. Have confidence in your own abilities: You are the expert. If the reporter starts to pursue their own agenda, be polite but firm and state clearly what you ARE here to talk about. But never be rude. And remember, nobody likes a smart alec.
6. To err is human: Go to the interview prepared to be called up on past mistakes. It’s important to be humble and admit fault if it’s due. Spike their guns with: “Yes, I/we did get that wrong.” And then tell the world how you plan to fix it. Control the narrative!
7. Beware the scalp hunters: A journalist’s primary motivation is the scoop. They’ll sometimes lead you to say things you don’t want to say, for a headline. Don’t fall foul of bear traps. Sniff out headline hunters. Stick to your message – bridge back when you’re led away from your central point – and don’t deviate or relent under pressure.
If you want to talk more about how to perform well in interviews, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.