“Does anyone have any questions for my answers?”
— Secretary of State Henry Kissinger opening a press conference
As the media environment continues to evolve and more people consume news on social media and mobile devices, the demand for content has skyrocketed. The days when only major outlets conducted interviews with newsmakers and broke stories are long gone. Today journalists must constantly “feed the beast” to satisfy the public’s relentless hunger for new information.
Consequently, more government affairs professionals find themselves interacting with the media. Interviews of any kind are anxiety-inducing. Add a reporter, camera, and lights and they can feel downright terrifying. With the right preparation, however, they can be a valuable tool for achieving your legislative objectives. Below are some tips for making the most out of media interviews.
Know your message
Approach every interview with an objective. What do you want to communicate to the audience?
Identify your key messages, draft talking points, and practice making the arguments. Outlining and refining your ideas will allow you to speak more articulately and concisely. Deep knowledge of a topic can actually be an obstacle in interviews. Picking and choosing what to share and how to tie it all together can be difficult, especially when asked an open-ended question. Remember that attention spans are short. Keep your objective top of mind and rehearse answering questions so the messages flow naturally.
Do your research
Fear of media interviews comes from the lack of control. There will always be unknowns, but the more you prepare, the better off you will be.
Gather as much information as you can before the interview. Learn about the reporter’s background and familiarize yourself with their previous coverage, especially work that relates to your subject area. If possible, watch a video or read transcripts of their prior interviews to get a sense of their style and personality. Feel free to ask if they are interested in something specific or are pursuing a particular story angle. Not every question can be anticipated, however, filling in as many blanks as possible will go a long way toward leaving a positive impression. Preparation will also allow you to feel more confident and less nervous.
Keep your cool
Your appearance, body language, and demeanor send a message before you ever utter a word.
Ask yourself how you would like to be perceived by the interviewer and audience and prep for the interview accordingly. Wear something simple, that fits well, and is comfortable to prevent fidgeting and distractions. Practice standing and sitting up straight and making eye contact. If the interview is being filmed, ask what direction to look before the Q&A starts. Feel free to pause for a few seconds to gather your thoughts before answering questions to prevent rambling and use of filler words. To evaluate your presentation, tape yourself rehearsing or ask a colleague to watch you practice and provide feedback.
Show your passion
Lastly, let your enthusiasm for the subject shine through.
The audience will not support your position if you do not appear to be 100 percent behind it. Remind yourself why your work is important and the difference you can make in people’s lives. Have a few anecdotes on hand to bring policies to life and illustrate what is at stake. Approach each interview with a sense of purpose beyond delivering a crafted message. Reporters can sense when someone if simply reciting talking points like a robot rather than genuinely caring about the issue. Interview subjects that show some personality are far more memorable. Remember passion is contagious.
This piece originally appeared on the blog of Government Affairs Industry Network (GAIN), a networking and professional development organization in Washington, DC.