While TV interviews can make even the most sophisticated executive uneasy, they offer an opportunity to deliver messages to a wide audience quickly.
Since television is a visual medium, the executive's physical demeanor and style are as important — if not more so — than what she/he says. In addition, the era of sound-bite journalism makes it imperative to deliver messages succinctly and clearly. This applies doubly to social media video interviews, where segments lasting more than 60 seconds are rare.
Based on this, the focus of executive preparation needs to be: 1) message development, 2) packaging and 3) demeanor. Your job as a PR pro is to ensure that the executive exudes confidence, control and credibility during the interview and leaves the audience believing the message.
As you would for any interview, ask basic questions to ensure you understand the context:
- What type of show is this? Is there a bias?
- Who is the primary audience?
- Is the journalist knowledgeable?
- Is anyone else being interviewed?
- Where does our story fit in the show?
- Live/taped? Edited/unedited?
- In-studio or talk show?
- On-location or remote?
With answers to these questions, you can decide what messages to communicate about your company, product or issue.
Defining the Messages
With video interviews typically brief, pick two or three points that will resonate with the journalist and audience. Focus on refining and packaging these “message points.”
When developing messages, think like a trial lawyer. Provide your executive with proof points to back up any assertions made. Some executives want to participate in crafting the messages. Fine. Regardless, your job is to ensure that the messages are concise, credible, defensible and memorable.
Executives, like many of us, feel most comfortable when they are prepared. It’s better to be over-prepared than caught off guard. Your strategy must include anticipating a reporter’s questions, both basic and unexpected. Develop a Q&A document that includes hostile or difficult questions with answers that incorporate key messages.
The Q&A document can be repurposed for other executives. It's also the foundation for the next steps: practice and role-playing.
Nothing beats practice to prepare for a TV interview. Using the Q&A document as a guide, run through all possible questions. Refine the answers until the executive is comfortable with the responses. Through this process, you can determine whether: the messages are being communicated; the responses are concise; and the proof points are strong.
Remember to encourage the executive to practice a technique called bridging and blocking. This is a way to steer the interview to your agenda. The executive can do this through use of phrases such as, “The real issue here is…” and, “That’s an interesting question, but let’s put it in perspective… .”
Headlining (making a key point first) is especially effective in the sound-bite world of broadcast TV. For example, underscore main points with phrases like, “It all boils down to two things…” or, “The bottom line is… .”
As part of the practice session, it is extremely helpful to watch videos of successful and unsuccessful broadcast interviews. YouTube is full of such examples. It is worth the time to build a small library of videos, with examples both good and bad.
Fighting Stage Fright
It’s normal to be nervous before a broadcast interview. The accompanying adrenaline rush can help executives stay alert. While being fully prepared can go a long way in instilling confidence and reducing nerves, there are a few tips to manage executive jitters:
- Arrive early to get accustomed to the surroundings
- Think positively and visualize a successful outcome
- Focus on the interview as a conversation with the reporter rather than the larger audience
- Reflect on the preparation, this will help the executive maintain control and make it his or her interview as much as the reporter’s
As noted above, TV interviews offer executives an unmatched opportunity to connect with audiences and deliver key messages. By working to create compelling messages and practicing, you will add tremendous value to the broadcast experience.
Tips and Tricks for a Successful Broadcast Interview
- Dress conservatively. For men, a dark suit and blue shirt. Avoid loud ties or ties with small patterns. For women, wear a dark outfit in solid colors.
- Don’t wear white.
- Men should unbutton their suit jacket while seated, button it when standing. Sitting on the back of the suit jacket will help create a wrinkle-free line.
- Most studios are cold. Once the lights are powered up, studios become quite warm. Mid-weight clothing is the best choice.
- Don’t wear large, shiny or noisy jewelry.
- Wear contact lenses, instead of glasses. If you wear glasses, non-reflective lenses are best. Avoid light-sensitive glasses.
- If offered makeup, accept it. Men should consider shaving close to airtime. Women should apply a matte finish to avoid a shiny face, with blush and eye makeup only slightly heavier than normal.
Before the Interview:
- Arriving early will allow you to participate in lighting and sound checks.
- Typically, a pre-interview precedes the on-camera interview. This allows you to assess the interviewer, and mention topic(s) you’d like to discuss. Often the pre-interview can help set the tone for the interview.
- A technician may clip a lavalier, or lapel, microphone to your jacket. Speak naturally, and avoid brushing your hand or clothing against the microphone. Women should remove necklaces likely to swing against the microphone.
- If a technician asks you to test the sound level by speaking, speak at your normal level. Say something innocuous (e.g., talk about the weather, recite a poem). Don’t try to be funny, or say anything off-color or controversial.
- If seated, sit erect but not ramrod-straight, and slightly forward or toward the interviewer.
- If standing, do so with arms at the side or one hand in a pocket. Planting one foot slightly in front of the other will help you avoid swaying.
- Should you gesture, do so naturally, not expansively. Keep gestures small and in front of you, and avoid sudden body movement.
- Make your expression match your words. Smile if appropriate. Keep a mildly pleasant expression at all times; an expression that looks neutral off camera seems unhappy or angry on camera, so a pleasant face may feel unnaturally smiley. Practice in a mirror.
- Lean forward slightly. Modulate your voice when making key points.
- Avoid obvious signs of discomfort or nervousness, e.g., foot tapping, clenched fists, shifting back and forth.
- Don’t nod your head to indicate that you understand or are ready to answer the question. Inadvertently, this may convey agreement with the questioner’s premise. Remain neutral and become animated only when you begin to speak.
During the Interview:
- Make punchy and concise statements; put your most important message up front; talk to the interviewer or guests, not the camera, unless instructed otherwise.
- Breaking eye contact by staring off into space or looking at the ground will make you appear shifty; stay attentive when others are speaking; if it is a remote interview — the reporter is offsite asking you questions through an ear piece — look directly at the camera at all times; try to avoid being distracted by activity around you in the studio, keep focused on the interviewer.
- Avoid overlapping the reporter’s questions. In other words, wait until the question is finished to begin your answer. Hold your interview attitude until the interview is over and the camera is off.
NOTE: This content appeared originally in the monthly publication PRNEWS. For subscription information, please visit: http://www.prnewsonline.com/about/info
Maura FitzGerald is co-founder and partner, Version 2.0 Communications