Ready for your close up? 8 keys to media interviews

By Lori

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Famous in Your Field: 8 tips for great TV interviews

Last month I scored a fantastic interview with a former producer. Roshanda Pratt spent 10 years as a television news producer in a top 20 market in the fast-paced world of 24-hour news channels.

She crammed our conversation with the inside scoop on who does what in the newsroom, how stories make it onto news programs, and the must-have factors that make a story air-time worthy. (Get it here if you missed it.)

Now, we’ll dig into her best advice to give great television interviews.

You did it! You scored an interview on the television news. Once you’ve texted your mom, your BFF and that frenemy you love to one-up, panic sets in…

“What will I say?”

“What if I goof it up?”

Keep cool, my soon-to-be-famous in your field friend. With a few pointers and a bit of prep, you’ll make a fan of the interviewer and have a spectacular clip to share with all your clients and prospects.

1. Preparation is paramount

You’ll up your chances of delivering a killer performance if you prepare. (I know that there are a few people who say that they perform better without rehearsals, but because I’ve never seen the prepared versions, I’m just not buying it.)

Roshanda advises, “Before the interview, figure out who within your organization can communicate the story? Are they prepared for the camera?”

Whether that’s you or someone else in your organization, make sure that person is well coached. You can expect to spend several hours preparing for your few minutes in front of the camera. (Don’t worry, once you’ve got a few interviews under your belt, it gets easier and takes less prep time.)

2. Know the format

First, it helps to understand the framework of the television news programs. The producer – the person who researched and writes the news stories that anchors read on the air – spends eight hours vetting news, culling sources and distilling stories into a 30 minute show.

The average story on the news is only 2 minutes long. You’ll likely only appear on the air for 20 seconds or less.

Here’s Roshanda’s advice: “Do your research!” Go to the show’s website and watch a few stories. See how they’re structured, listen to the “experts” who are featured. How do they communicate? What kind of language do they use?

3. Know your goal

Before your big moment in the spotlight, think about your goal for this interview and how you can make your goal fit into the objective of the news program, which is to educate, engage or entertain its viewers.

Next, get clear on the one to three big ideas that you want to convey. What is essential that the viewer understand about your topic?

Invest time and energy in planning what you want to say and most importantly how you’ll say it.

Frame your remarks like headlines. Give the conclusion first, briefly and directly, and back it with facts or “proof point.”

Bonus points if you can give advice that’s surprising or counter intuitive. It holds the viewer’s attention and makes them want to know more.

4. Face the reporter

Being interviewed for television can be nerve-wracking. Show that you’re a pro by looking at the reporter, not the camera, while you’re talking.

5. Speak in sound bites

Because your entire story may only be two minutes long, you’ve got to pack a punch with your words. You must be concise. Passion for your topic is essential to create great energy on camera, but if you let your passion possess you and ramble, you won’t be invited back.

Reporters are looking for “experts” who can speak in sound bites. Sound bites are those short audio or video clips used to promote or tease an upcoming story or show.

Creating stellar sound bites is all about choosing a few words that convey the strongest possible meanings in nine seconds or less. (Yep, nine seconds.)

Roshanda called these “Twitter updates for TV.”

Derek Halpern, founder of the popular online marketing psychology website is a master at delivering his advice in catchy phrases.

Derek on making money with an online business: “You don’t need new ingredients, you just need a new recipe.”

Derek on whether he believes “the customer is always right”:

“I take pleasure in banning people from my site. Every second you waste fretting over a hater is a second you could spend making a loyal customer happy.” (Notice how his advice is counter to the “do whatever it takes to make the customer happy” conventional wisdom?)

6. Finish strong

Make sure your sound bites end with your vocal tone in a downstroke. Think of it as making a statement, not asking a question.

7. Wait your turn

During the interview you’ll probably be excited to share your message or advice. Whatever you do, don’t talk over the interviewer’s question. Wait until the reporter is finished, then begin your answer.

8. Give ‘em what they want

Sometimes during an interview, the reporter will ask the same question in a different way.

Unless you’re on to represent a controversial issue, you can relax – the reporter isn’t trying to trip you up. What the interviewer really wants is a great sound bite and your previous answer didn’t deliver. Smile and say it another way.

Your fame boosting assignment:

Start preparing for your media interviews this week. No worries if you haven’t scored any yet. Being able to use compelling sound bites is a skill that will make you stand out in a presentation situation, a networking event or while leading a meeting.

Craft three sound bites about your area of expertise, your industry or the topic you represent. Here’s one of mine that I often use in presentations, “Being an expert is more about PR than PhD.”

Smile, superstar! You’re ready for the spotlight.


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