20 Commandments: The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving Executive Interviews

No executive wants to appear unprepared, aloof or arrogant when representing his or her organization before a large audience. To mitigate this risk, corporations retain outside experts to coach or train their executives for media interviews. But with or without a professional trainer, there are simple guidelines that will help any executive before an interview.

Rather than a guide for crisis management, the following is more of a primer for routine media interviews. Get your CEO to follow these 20 commandments to avoid blunders such as misstating facts, appearing unprepared or coming across as arrogant.

1. Be yourself. People relate to “real” people.

2. Be relaxed. Be alert and attentive, but don’t be anxious.

3. Be prepared. Take the time to review notes, articles, company documents or anything else that will help you be prepared. Ask colleagues and communications consultants for input. Once you know what the interview is about, set an agenda by formulating three or four simple key messages and use them throughout the interview.

4. Use plain language. When speaking to media for a general audience, speak as the readers and viewers do. No jargon, and no “insider” information.

5. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Do not ramble or wander off the subject. Choose your words carefully. Do not speak as if you are a machine, and be aware that anything you say can be used against you. If you don’t want to read it in the newspaper or online, don’t say it.

6. Be sure to use complete sentences that may also include parts of the question. For example, in response to the question, “Do you think that the court ruling will severely impact employers?” do not respond, “Yes it will.” Instead, answer with, “This court ruling will have an important impact on the workplace because…”

7. Control the interview Answer questions posed by the reporter, but follow up with key items on your agenda. If the reporter doesn’t address an agenda item, bring it up. Do not feel pressured to say anything more than you want to say. If a reporter pauses for a long time to encourage you to elaborate further, don’t fall into the trap.

8. Do not speak off the record. Make this a rule to live by. There will be exceptions as you get to know certain reporters, but make this the law when starting to deal with media.

9. When being interviewed in person, make eye contact.

10. When being interviewed over the telephone, consider standing up. You will sound more alert and attentive. Assume a posture that allows you to project.

11. Set up important points with pauses or phrases, such as:

â–¶ “What’s most important to know (or consider) is...”

â–¶ “That’s an interesting question, it reminds me of…”

â–¶ “Let me put it in perspective…”

â–¶ “Before we get off that subject/topic, let me add…”

â–¶ “That’s not my area of expertise, but what I can tell you is…”

â–¶ “That’s a good point, but I think your audience/readers would be interested knowing that…”

â–¶ “What I’m really here to talk about is…”

â–¶ “That reminds me…”

â–¶ “Let me give you some background information…”

â–¶ “Let’s take a closer look at…”

â–¶ “That’s an important point because…”

â–¶ “While ____ is certainly important, don’t forget that ___...”

12. Support your assertions with evidence and examples.

13. Never say, “No comment.” If there is a question that you cannot answer for any reason, explain why you cannot answer it. For instance, you might be under a gag order, the reporter might introduce a development you’re not familiar with or you have been asked a question outside your area of expertise or responsibility.

14. Never get angry. But if you do get angry, do not display it in any fashion.

15. Never speak badly about anyone.

16. Never use inappropriate language.

17. Never talk down to or insult a reporter.

18. Always return calls to reporters and editors promptly. Always. Let them know that you are accessible.

19. Stay professional; do not try to get too cozy with a reporter, especially one you do not know personally.

20. Remember the ABCs of Media Interviews: Accuracy; Brevity; Clarity. PRN

[Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from PR News’ just-published Media Training Guidebook, Vol. 4. Order this guidebook by visiting prnewsonline.com/store/53.html.]


This article was written by Kevin L. Sullivan, chief marketing officer for Fisher & Phillips LLP, a national labor and employment law firm. He can be reached at ksullivan@laborlawyers.com.