I’ve done hundreds of interviews in my professional life (and at least one in my personal life, when I actually took a day off of my job as a media spokesperson to mail Christmas gifts to family on the busiest shipping day of the year, and a local TV station nabbed me for a chat about why I waited till the busiest shipping day of the year to visit the post office). A fair number of those interviews were on political/public policy issues fitted with cultural hot buttons … and often my viewpoint was not shared by the man or woman on the other side of the microphone. Yet I survived each one — and, dare I say, thrived in most of them.
Am I some spokespersoning savant? Not really. I mean, I will never be accused of not liking the sound of my own voice, but most of my success in speaking to the media is a function of following The 3 Ws (you’ll find a lot more tips along these lines in my book, BITE THE DOG: Build a PR Strategy to Make News That Matters). The key to a good interview is being:
- Wise: Know who your audience is (hint: it’s not the journalist) and tailor your message to those who comprise it. Speak through the reporter/host and to the readers/viewers/listeners. Use language they understand, tell stories they can relate to. And don’t just talk about what you do and believe; talk about how what you do and believe makes a difference.
- Winsome: Speak kindly, especially when you are in a debate format. Sure, you’ll get “gotcha” questions sometimes — don’t let them getcha. Be confident, measured and persuasive. No fish has even been hooked that didn’t take the bait. Stick to the lane you want to swim in — your goal in the interview is to get your message across, not to get in an argument. So prepare talking points in advance, politely sidestep questions that would lead you to abandon those talking points and smile. Even if you’re not on camera. Your tone will reflect it.
- Winning: No, I don’t mean this in the “to the victor go the spoils” way. I mean it in the way Noah Webster defined the term in his first dictionary in 1828: to be “attracting, adapted to gain favor, charming.” There’s a lot of “winsome” in this one — the chief difference is in a demonstrably plucky demeanor. It’s about energy and verve as much as it’s about pleasantness. There’s an irresistibility that the winning spokesperson exhibits. Audiences don’t just believe you; they like you.
Not sure I hit No. 3 when my alter ego wound up on TV during the craziest mailing day of the year, but that’s the beauty of practicing The 3 Ws: you can always do a better job the next time.