Media content is being consumed and produced in greater quantities than we’ve ever seen. Expanded TV News services, growing networks with multiple channels, internet, and social media are all searching for and devouring content like never before.
That means your chances of being asked to step in front of the camera are growing. Some see it as a daunting experience to be avoided at all costs, but it shouldn’t be. A media interview should be like any other part of your job, not something you dread. It should be a positive experience - a chance to tell the story of you, your colleagues, or your Service.
Like most experiences, preparation is the key and knowing a few basic tips can make you look like a seasoned campaigner in front of the lens.
Any time you are in front of the camera, you are the storyteller. You are informing your audience, which could be your subordinates, peers, superiors, or the public. Preparation on the topics, rehearsal of the questions, and anticipation of any other issues will make sure you are comfortable and confident about your role and message.
Reporters, journalists and interviewers don’t use Jedi Mind Tricks or the Dark Arts to get you to say things you don’t want to say. But they will ask you questions to get honest answers. You know that old saying, “Never ask a question you don’t know the answer too”? Well, in most cases, journalists have a pretty good idea what your answers will be. But they need you to say it. You are the source, authority or expert. When you say it, your words have credibility. They tell the story.
Here’s a toolbox of six (6) golden rules to set you up for the best outcome from your interviews.
1. Be as prepared as you can be
Understand the issues. Have you gathered as much information as you can and armed yourself with all the facts. Keep asking “Why?”. Why are you being asked to do the interview? Why have they chosen you? Are you the most qualified person to speak about this topic or event? What are you expected to contribute?
Make sure you know the subject and your message.
No-one expects you to have all the answers – but if you don’t, make a plan to get them and follow it up. It’s ok to say, “I’m probably not the most qualified person to answer that, but let me chase it up for you and get that information.”
2. Have one clear message
The 10-second TV grab is used for a reason. Most of what needs to be said can be conveyed in one short sharp sentence. The better a person knows their subject, the simpler than can explain it. Your one powerful key massage should be able to be delivered in 10 seconds.
Rehearse your key line and keep refining it until it is crystal clear to you, and makes an impactful, simple statement.
In preparing your message, consider your audience. Who are you talking to?
Visualise your audience and how they might react and absorb your message. Keeping it simple is, in just about every case, is the most effective way to make an impact and have your message remembered.
The biggest trap people fall into is trying to deliver multiple messages from pages of briefing notes. It’s too much to process for you and the audience, and the most important message gets lost in the confusion.
Use your Public Affairs Officer to rehearse your questions and hone your responses. The more your train, the better the outcome.
3. Be Honest, Genuine, Believable, Authentic.
The camera is a giant magnifying glass. It focuses in closely on your face, so any sign of dishonesty, like shifting eye movement, immediately losses your connection with the audience.
For that reason, you must believe what you are saying with complete conviction. Your emotions are transparent to the lens, so what you say must be honest and come from the heart.
4. Control the situation
Take a few moments to get yourself comfortable before your interview. When you can, arrive early. A few minutes spent chatting to the interviewer can do a lot to build rapport, defuse any aggression, and make for a more comfortable and productive chat for everyone.
In the studio environment, we always have a quick chat to every guest before an interview to help establish a relationship that will lead to the most productive outcome. It works for both the interviewer and the interviewee.
Check if the interview is Live and going to air in real-time.
Above all, understand that YOU have control. This is your interview. No one can make you say what you don’t want to say.
Using breathing techniques, perhaps a few deep breathes, can help relax you, cut out distractions and help you focus on what needs to be done.
The Public Affairs Officer can assist with ensuring the environment is prepared for you.
5. Reinforce and recap
Weave your message back in, to make sure the audience gets it. The chance to recap towards the end is a good place to do this. Most reporters will end an interview by asking, “is there anything else you want to cover?” and that’s the chance to reinforce the key message.
6. Every microphone is on and every camera is recording
Be aware. Whenever you walk up to cameras and microphones, keep in mind they could inadvertently be switched on, either recording or going live to air. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t be comfortable with in the public domain.
Step up to the opportunity to speak to the media. If you remember to think about what you are doing, be clear on your key message, and prepare your content and yourself, you’ll have a positive experience and deliver your key message to an engaged audience.
Be a great spokesperson for yourself and the Australian Defence Force.
Capt Mark Beretta is an Army Reserve Public Affairs Officer at Forces Command in Sydney. He has spent 30 years in television and radio as a host, presenter and reporter. He currently works on Seven’s breakfast show ‘Sunrise’ as a co-host and sport presenter, as well as commentating live sport for Seven.