13 Tips to Ace Your Next Media Interview

by Janice Tomich

Congratulations, you’ve been sought out by the media to provide your experience and industry knowledge.

Pause and think about the achievement. You’ve been chosen because you’re seen as an expert who can provide an insider’s view for their audience.

As an interviewee, you have a perspective that few others do.

So don’t panic.

Take comfort in knowing that interview skills don’t come naturally to most people. Doing media interviews with polish, confidence, and ease is certainly something you can learn.

As a communication coach, I’ve helped many professionals prepare for media appearances. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare effectively makes all the difference.

Follow these media interview tips to ensure you’ll be able to speak confidently, be understood, and make an impact.

1. Know the Different Types of Media Interviews

As technology has grown, so too have the platforms where you might be asked to be interviewed. Online video platforms (think live social media interviews) have become increasingly popular.

Still, when it comes to media appearances, the most sought-after form is still live television or radio interviews. You might be invited to the studio to do the interview, or you might be recording live from your home.

Not all media interviews are live, of course. Journalists from content-driven media outlets (online-only or hybrid, like a national print newspaper) might reach out to you for your expertise too.

2. Clarify Your Goals and Primary Message

Your interviewer will have specific goals for the interview.

But stop to think—what are your goals? Grow your business? Clarify your organization’s perspective, perhaps on a difficult subject? Establish yourself as a thought leader in a specific domain? Boost consumer buy-in for your product? Encourage or influence investor funding?

Clarifying your goals is the first and most important step to having a successful interview. Once you’ve got that piece covered, it’s time to craft your message, which needs to align with your goals.

Get your goals and messaging right and you’ll have no trouble showing up as the focused, organized expert you are (and not a rambling, off-tangent interviewee!)

3. Prepare Talking Points and Examples

You’re being interviewed because of the depth and breadth of your knowledge in the topic at hand.

Make your first-hand experience concrete by crafting three to five specific key points you plan to cover in the interview. Illustrate each talking point with an anecdote or example—this will bring your interview to life and make it memorable. Taking the time to identify rich highlights that paint a full picture is always a worthwhile investment of your time.

For each of your main points, apply what I call the context, problem, solution, benefit (CPSB) framework, which will keep your messaging clear and concise. Try to find that happy medium between not providing enough detail (being vague) and too much detail (which might bore your audience). If the interviewer wants more detail, they’ll ask for it.

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4. If Necessary, Use Bridging Techniques to Redirect the Interview

Here’s a secret.

The interviewer has the power to ask questions, but you have the power to steer the interview, too.

You’ve accepted the interview to share your point of view. If you feel the line of questioning is going off track, simply use what communication experts call “bridging” to redirect the conversation back to your talking points.

“Bridging” means strategically employing transitional phrases which gently guide the interview back to your goals.

Here are some examples of bridging statements you can use:

  • “That’s a great question, but I want our viewers to know that…”
  • “I’d like to finish my point before we continue…”
  • “That’s really interesting, but out of the scope of my expertise. Here is what I know…”

Using these types of phrases to redirect the conversation back to your talking points opens back up that opportunity to speak about what you know.

5. Research the Media Outlet and Choose Your Appearances Wisely

If your goals and the goals of the media outlet are aligned, you might not have to use bridging at all.

Be smart about who you allow yourself to be interviewed by.

Research the journalist and media outlet ahead of time. Will the interviewer provide a balanced perspective? Is being interviewed by this specific media outlet/interviewer a good investment of your time? Does your target audience watch or listen to the media channel?

You shouldn’t expect a reporter to give you an easy time, but you also don’t want to subject yourself to biased reporting. (That said, if you have the skills to hold your own during a hard-hitting interview, it does provide an opportunity to showcase what you know and demonstrate your ability to support your arguments.)

on the street media interview with camera person, reporter, and interviewee

It is okay to say “no” to a media opportunity if the outlet is not a good fit for you and your goals. You may want to suggest someone else they could interview who would be a better fit.

6. Avoid Jargon. Use Layman’s Language.

As experts, we often forget that our audience doesn’t understand industry jargon. Your audience should understand what you’re saying without having to check their cellphone for a translation.

As someone once said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” (Maybe Einstein said it? But even if not, it’s still good advice.)

The mark of a true expert is that they can teach what they know to just about anyone. As you plan out your talking points, refine them to be as simply stated as possible. Don’t get into deep explanations unless you are asked for a more in-depth answer.

A media appearance, like any form of communication, is always about the audience understanding you. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Only use industry jargon if the audience is solely comprised of your industry peers—which, for a media interview, is rare.

7. Avoid Embarrassing Off-Camera & Hot Mic Moments

Everything you say is fair game. Yes, everything.

There is no guarantee information you share won’t be used, even if you ask for it to be off-record.

Play it safe. Don’t say what you don’t want to be shared publicly. Some of the most practiced, high-profile people have been caught unexpectedly with their mic on—with a “hot mic.” Don’t say anything you don’t want to be repeated until you are in the privacy of your own home or with trusted colleagues. Even if your mic is off, you never know who might be listening.

But what if you do reveal something you shouldn’t?

Maybe you divulged information that you thought had already been released, but it wasn’t. Or maybe you overstepped your experience.

Of course, if the interview was live, you’re out of luck.

If it’s not live, though, you have options. Don’t be shy about asking that the information be cut from the recording and not used. Explain what the fallout might be. You can offer to return with updated information.

Working with media is all about relationships. Building good media relationships before the interview (and before every interview) gives you a better chance of getting a “yes” when you need to ask for a Hail Mary pass.

“Janice gave me the words and the practice to hold my own as I worked through tough business negotiations. I learned how to speak up for myself in a powerful, persuasive way that was true to who I am. ”

​​​​Margarita Quihuis
ESG Advisor, ED: Peace Innovation Institute, The Hague Peace Innovation Lab Stanford

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8. Managing Quotes

During a phone interview, ask the interviewer to repeat back your quotes (they may volunteer to do this, but it’s also your right to ask.) This ensures you are quoted accurately.

Sometimes journalists will send you a draft of your quotes to ensure accuracy. However, it depends on the journalist—so don’t count on it. Again, it’s okay to ask but don’t count on that courtesy.

Truthfully, the best insurance against being misquoted by the media is to be well-practiced and accurate with your words, because corrections or retractions are not guaranteed.

woman reading a newspaper with a dismayed expression, having just found out she was misquoted

Even if corrections are granted, what people remember is what’s said in the first instance, not the correction.

Take the time to get it right the first time.

9. Practice with Mock Interviews

I have never had a client tell me they wished they had practiced less. Media interview practice is often left too late, and the result can be less-than-stellar.

Practicing takes commitment and a desire to interview well. If you have a busy schedule, do yourself a favor and block off practice time. It’s worth it for how confident you’ll feel fielding questions.

Mock interviews are a fantastic way to prepare. But be careful about who invite into your mock interview sessions. A colleague who has little experience might provide feedback with a biased point of view, and it might not be what your audience needs to know or hear.

Instead, ask seasoned peers with media experience, someone from your PR department, or call in a communication specialist to provide sound advice.

10. Use Technology to Your Advantage

Part of being prepared is knowing what to expect from a professional tech environment. Large media outlets will have someone there to guide you. They’ll help you attach your mic and have the studio lighting in place. Be careful to not rub your hand against the mic with hand gestures.

One aspect of interviewing I often see newbies get wrong is they look into the camera, which looks awkward (that’s for pros). You are better served by being in natural conversation, so converse as you naturally would by looking at the interviewer.

If you’re being interviewed from your office or home office, buy the best tech equipment you can afford. Ensure that you are well lit and that your audio quality is clear. Good quality equipment is affordable and it’s worth the investment to make you look and sound good.

A cell phone camera mounted on a tripod is one way to do a video interview in your home office

Tidy and clean the room around you and consider what you want to have in the camera’s line of sight. What do you want the audience to see? Perhaps books, plants, or your degrees?

11. Dress the Part

Your words and ideas should be the star, not your attire.

As a lover of shoes, I found a kindred spirit in the host of a workshop I once attended. The host wore the most gorgeous, colourful handmade shoes. Years later, I can still visualize the shoes. The problem is, I only have a vague remembrance of what she said.

Wear neutral clothing so your audience focuses on you. Leave your striped or heavily patterned clothes in the closet. They will vibrate wildly on screen.

If you wear glasses, the glare can be overcome by the lighting in the room or with an anti-glare coating on the lenses.

Cameras tend to make your skin tone look bland. Makeup is recommended both for men and women to create a vibrant healthy glow on screen. If makeup isn’t your forté, consider hiring a professional makeup artist to make sure you look your best. The goal should be for you to look polished on camera, but not overshadow your talking points with a flashy appearance.

12. Tips for After Your Interview

After your interview, take a few minutes to debrief.

Be objective and consider how you did. What were your strengths? What did you answer well? What will you consider changing for your next interview? And don’t be a harsh critic. Even seasoned pros make mistakes and are always finding ways to improve.

If you haven’t already, follow your interviewer on social media. Give them a shout-out and thanks after the interview goes live.

Be sure to share the article or video too. This helps you make the most of the time you invested. Post your interview to your/your organization’s website to increase the reach.

13. Relax

People get nervous about being interviewed because there is pressure to perform in the moment. But media interviewing skills are something that anyone can learn. Being able to confidently accept opportunities that come your way is worth it for the exposure it gives to your business, and for how it can boost your career.

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