Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Media Interviews: How to Have a Great Experience Every Time

Speaking to the media presents a rare opportunity to get your views heard. However, it doesn’t need to be a stressful or frightening prospect. There are some common sense techniques and insights everyone should know before speaking to the media to have a successful, even fun, experience with the news media every time.

First, be prepared. Never wing it.

The first thing to remember when being interviewed by the media is not to wing it. Being immersed in a subject every day doesn't mean you can spontaneously move the right bricks into place to construct the foundation of a persuasive performance. If you are called by a reporter, you might want to try to schedule an interview with them later in the day, even an hour later, so you can do the necessary preparation. The reporter knows that you are busy. As long as you work within his deadline, he should respect your request to get back to him. Try to find out the subject matter he is calling about and what questions he would like answered. During your preparation, call on the people or resources who can help you with the issue area. Also, think about how you will respond to tough or hostile questions. Do you have a clear, honest and appropriate answer to the most negative question you can imagine? Imagine what a successful interview would look and sound like. Set out to make that a reality.

Determine what your message is or what you want to say.

There is usually a good reason a reporter is talking to you about a certain subject. You are being interviewed because you bring a particular perspective to the topic because of who you are, what you do or what you have done. Consider the one or two (but not more than three) ideas you want the reporter and, more importantly, the readers, listeners or viewers, to take from your comments. These messages should be short and to the point. You should be able to list these messages or the message in a clear and concise manner throughout the interview. Don’t worry about sounding like a “broken record.” Be comfortable repeating your message points over and over again.

Stay “on message” to avoid mistakes and gaffes.

When we hear about a politician, athlete or celebrity making a gaffe in the media, it is usually because they strayed from their message and allowed emotion to take over. Remember, reporters have a job to do. Part of that job is to write about interesting subjects. Controversy and conflict are inherently interesting. They may try to portray two sides of an issue as extremes and will look for quotes to support making their stories more controversial. By staying on message, even by repeatedly restating the main point of your argument with every answer to every question, you will avoid making gaffes and embarrassing or unhelpful remarks.

Try to “bridge” your answers back to your message points.

“Bridging” creates a transition so that you can move from the “question asked” to the message you want to communicate. This helps to deflect any attempts to derail your message. After answering the direct question, immediately transition to your message. Some key phrases to help accomplish this are; “What's important to remember, however…,” or “That's one way to look at it, but I think you'd be interested in knowing…” or “Let me put that in perspective…”

Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know.”

Most issues have many facets and the reporter will be speaking to many different sources. Don’t feel like you need to offer a comment on every aspect of a given issue. Understand why you are being interviewed and what perspective the reporter needs from you. If you are not a lawyer, don’t feel like you need to comment on legal issues outside your specific experience. The closer you keep your comments to what you know well, the less chance you will say something inaccurate or harmful to your position. Reporters know you don’t know everything. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know. Simply admit it. However, if there is information you should know, offer to get back to them with the information before their deadline. If you know someone on your side of the issue that can answer the question, offer to put the reporter in touch with that person.

Stop talking after you answer the question.

One of the most effective techniques in journalism is to just sit there and let the interviewee talk. They may ask a question to start the conversation and then let you go on and on. They may throw in a supportive “question” or “minimal encourager” here or there to keep you talking. Don’t confuse this with you having control over the interview. Most try to avoid awkward pauses in conversation. They make us uncomfortable and we usually try to fill in those gaps by talking. In an interview with a reporter, do not give in to the impulse to fill in those conversation gaps. That’s when you will most likely go off message and make embarrassing or damaging statements that get quoted and misrepresent your true sentiments and position. Stop when you are done answering the question. Just stop. Take a sip of your drink. Smile. Pet the dog. Anything. Just don’t continue answering the question. The reporter will move on.

Answer the question you want to answer, not the question they ask.

Don’t allow the reporter to totally dictate the terms of the interview. Answer all the questions, but stay “on message.” Don’t get frustrated if you are asked the same question multiple times. Often reporters will frame a question in a way that asserts a premise that you do not believe or that is damaging to your position. Reject the premise. Even go so far as to ask your own version of the question and answer it. Reporters don’t do this to be mean or to show bias. They do this to draw out an emotional response that might more accurately reflect your heartfelt views rather than a rehearsed statement. However, just because you are prepared and have a well-reasoned argument, it doesn’t mean you are being dishonest or hiding something. An emotional response might be good copy for a newspaper article or a sound bite for a radio or TV report, but it rarely reflects your views accurately.

The reporter is not your friend.

In any media interview, you are really speaking through the reporter to his or her readers, listeners or viewers. Having a good relationship with the reporter is positive. However, the success of your performance is judged by how it impacts the audience, not necessarily the reporter.

Be positive and confident throughout the interview.

When speaking to the media, be helpful and stay relaxed. If you are nervous or this is your first time talking to a reporter, it’s okay to say so (just not on the air or on camera though). A good reporter wants to get the story, not embarrass you. Listen carefully to the question. Take a few seconds to breathe and frame your answer. Speak slowly and avoid jargon. Speak with confidence and enthusiasm. Smile when you speak. Even if they can't see you, the smile and good will come through.

Stay “on the record,” it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Have the attitude that nothing is ever off the record. Assume that anything you say or give them could end up in the story. Also, be careful making jokes or using sarcasm. Things said out load often don’t seem as humorous transcribed onto a cold sheet of paper.

Seeing your name in the paper or your face on television should be fun. Relax, enjoy yourself. But take the experience seriously. Following these common sense guidelines can demystify the experience and ensure that talking to the press will be a positive experience.

Farrell Quinlan is a public relations and government affairs consultant in Chandler, Arizona. He has been a journalist, political operative, congressional staffer and for a decade was the vice president of communications and lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

2007 Major League Baseball Predictions

NL East: New York Mets
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Wild Card: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Champion: New York Mets
NL MVP: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
NL Cy Young: Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Rookie: Chris B. Young, Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Manager: Lou Pinella, Chicago Cubs
NL Batting Champ: Miguel Cabrera, Florida Marlins (.350 range)
NL HR Champ: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies (more than 50)

AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL Wild Card: New York Yankees
AL Champion: New York Yankees
AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins
AL Rookie: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
AL Manager: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL Batting Champ: Ichiro, Seattle Mariners (challenges .400)
AL HR Champ: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees (more than 50, more then Ryan Howard)

World Series Champion: New York Mets


  • Barry Bonds hits 34 HR breaking Hank Aarons’ career mark.
  • Roger Clemens returns to the Houston Astros, is injured, retires for good
  • Johan Santana wins more than 25 games
  • Alex Rodriguez silences critics in NY with monster season and playoffs (.310 BA, 55 HR, 145 RBI, 30 SB), opts for free agency at end of season anyway
  • Randy Johnson shows flashes of his old self (15 W, 200 K, 3.25 ERA)
  • Sammy Sosa hits 25 HRs with 80 RBI but has a low BA (.240s)
  • Mike Sweeney stays off the DL and has nice comeback season