5 tips to keeping your media interview on track and on message

We haven’t all been there, but we’ve certainly all seen it – a media interview gone wrong. Nerves, a slip of the tongue, being taken off guard, misinformation, disinformation, or no information at all… these situations can all set the stage for PR disaster. And it’s not just controversial subjects that are ripe for the unwanted spotlight. In the increasingly dramatized media landscape, seemingly innocuous media opportunities can take a very different turn.

So how do you handle a media interview gone astray?

Here are five tips:

  1. Don’t react immediately.

    Fight or flight is a kneejerk reaction in tough situations. Whether it was your own mistake, being asked question you weren’t expecting, or even being confronted by a bystander, giving yourself a few seconds to process the situation is key. You’ll also likely need to control your immediate reaction (embarrassment, shock, horror, annoyance) with more neutral facial and body language that acknowledges the situation and then gives way to an appropriate expression. Try not to let the element of surprise in the beginning derail the rest of the interaction.

  2. Know your body language.

    A photo can be worth so much more than a thousand words – just ask the internet. Take some time to learn your own facial expression and body movement. One good technique – have an animated conversation with yourself in the mirror. Try it with and without actually talking. You can also video tape yourself to watch back. It’s a little awkward, I know, but guaranteed you will find discrepancies between what you are trying to express and what is coming across. Hand talkers are a classic example – in a confrontational situation, hand talking can look aggressive. On the opposite side, people who are naturally low key may come across as disengaged, or worse, uncaring, particularly in a crisis situation.

  3. Stay on message.

    Before any media interview, you should know the topic to be discussed and have prepared three relevant key messages to share. Three makes it easier for you to remember and for your audience to digest. The messages should be high-level, but be prepared to speak to them with more supporting details should the opportunity arise. If you are distracted from your key messaging at any point, use pivots and other techniques to retain control of the interview. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, but always follow up right away with the answer after the interview.

  4. Be “equal” with your audience.

    This is in relation to the media, the public, and whomever you might be talking to. I think of a situation where a mar/comm representative was giving a media interview at a public complex. A customer walked up in the middle of the interview to say emphatically how terrible her experience was. The customer proceeded to sit down while getting paperwork to support her complaint. Meanwhile, the rep continued to stand up, in effect creating the perception that he was towering (and powering) over her. It is small nuances like this that can exacerbate an issue. Later in the shot, you can see the rep has sat down next to the customer and they are on the same level (physically and thematically) as they work through her issue.

  5. Practice makes perfect.

    Or closer to it. Work with others to develop possible media interview concerns and confrontations (they don’t all have to be dramatic). Then explore possible reactions and answers and decide upon the best approaches. From there, practice with different situations and in different roles – try even being in the role of reporter and the audience to get the feeling of being “in their shoes.” Identifying and acting out potential negative scenarios will help them become more natural to you and built more into your muscle memory. Trust us, this will be a significant benefit to you if the need does arise to make practice a reality.

When it comes to media interviews, you might make mistakes or may encounter no-win situations. From there, the interview can go astray or you can keep it on (relative) track. It is how you deal with the interruption – calmly and with the element of practice in your back pocket – that will make the different between a minor issue and a full-out viral story.

Looking for more tips and support for your PR efforts? We’re here to help!

And here’s another good read: Does social media help of hurt your PR effort?