10 things to prepare before every media interview

Professional broadcasters and interviewers may make their job look easy, but that comfort and confidence is hard-won through research and preparation.

So why would you, the interviewee, assume that you can simply step into the interview without a similar degree of preparation?

So many interviewees, because they are specialists in the subject under discussion, are under the illusion that their expertise alone will carry them through.

Certainly, they can be sure that their knowledge of the subject is greater than the interviewer. But that does not mean that in the frenzied, zig-zag course of a three-minute interview they can sure of making an impact. This is their chance to create an impression and add something new and memorable to the subject, but without considered preparation they are unlikely to succeed.

One of the momentos of my broadcasting career is a small card left behind by Tony Benn on one of the many occasions I interviewed him on TV. It was a bog-standard “how do you see the war in Iraq?” interview. He could have done it off the top of his head, at a moment’s notice, but on the card he had carefully prepared the points he wanted to make.

No interview worth doing is ever easy. But without preparation you will simply make it more difficult and more risky. Fail to prepare, and you are preparing to fail.

Here are 10 things you should prepare before every media interview:

1. Your key messages
Your first aim in any interview should be to communicate your key messages as clearly as possible. They will also come to your aid if you don’t know what to say. Three key messages is the right amount for you and your audience to remember.

2. Important statistics or research
These lend authority to your answers. If you can, favour studies undertaken by independent bodies.

3. Examples or anecdotes
Examples help to bring the subject matter alive, putting flesh and blood on technically-based replies.

4. Simple explanations
If you are expecting complicated questions to arise, prepare tight, concise explanations.

5. Bridging phrases
Work out how you will bridge to your key messages with phrases such as “…but the real issue is…”

6. Human stories
Real stories about real people are always more effective than anonymous overviews, and journalists love the human angle.

7. Limits
Always decide on the point beyond which you do not wish to go in an interview. Be clear about how much you are prepared to reveal on every issue.

8. Something new
This is what the journalist wants so that they have a story. Make sure you decide what it is, and not the journalist.

9. Soundbites
A good soundbite can be extremely powerful. It is always worth preparing one or two in advance.

10. Your overall viewpoint
Decide on your viewpoint and stick to it. Wandering from your position will weaken everything you say.

Picture credit:  rawpixel.com

Andrew Harvey

Andrew Harvey was one of the main news presenters on BBC TV News. During his time at the BBC, Andrew fronted all their daily news programmes. More recently he was senior presenter on the 24-hour ITV news channel. He covered many major events in that period, from 9/11 and the London bombings in 2005, to nine general elections and two Royal funerals. He now runs the media training company HarveyLeach.

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