General Tools, Techniques and Tips
The goal of an interview is to communicate your key message to a public via the report and his/her media outlet. It is not to educate the reporter or show how much you know. The key then is to focus on your key message and utilize techniques to keep the interview on those messages. Here are some tried-and-true interview techniques.
You will often be asked questions that don’t get to the points you wish to make or that you don’t wish to answer. You can use bridging to turn the question to your points. Listen for the larger issue behind the question and find the connection to your issue. Here are some examples:
“…yes, but that speaks to a bigger point….”
“… I think what you are really asking is…”
Sometimes a reporter asks you a question you don’t’ want to answer. If it is a policy issue not to discuss certain issues, it is fair to say “It’s our policy not to discuss XYZ…” and then bridge on to what you want to talk about. But if you can’t answer a question, explain why. No comment works for the White House. But not for most of the world…
A= Q + 1
A simple and effective way to have every question become an opportunity to make your point is to try and answer a question with a very brief answer then and one of your key messages. This also allows you to repeat a few key messages.
” (short answer to question) which supports our goal of ….”
Flagging or Headlining
When trying to make your key messages clear quickly in an interview, you start with the conclusions and end with the explanations — you “flag” or “headline” the issue. This is especially important for broadcast interviews. You can simply make your point and then explain it, or you can draw attention by saying phrases such as:
“the most important issue/fact is….”
“what we really want to make clear is that ….”
When you have a complicated message in a broadcast interview, you can carefully extend the sound byte by enumerating your points, making it difficult for the media outlet to separate them. For example:
“There are three things every person planning a pregnancy should know: 1) take folic acid prior to trying to conceive, 2) abstain from drugs and alcohol and 3) talk to your doctor.”
Pauses/Quiet/Knowing When to Stop!
Don’t continue talking after you make your point.
Use single, clear sentences to make your point.
Reporters often leave a space of silence to try and draw unintended remarks out of guests trying to “fill the space.” You don’t have to!
Avoid Getting Trapped
Keep calm. Leave pig wrestling to the pigs. They always end up looking like pigs…
Don’t repeat wrong information — even if offered by the reporter. It could be the sound bite that is used. Instead offer the correction framed not as a denial, but as a statement about the facts you want to present.
If a reporter provides incorrect information, it is ok to correct them with “That is not true… the facts are that….”
If you don’t have or know the information requested, don’t pretend you do. Offer to get back to the reporter with the information.
Never say something you don’t want to appear in print or be aired.
Don’t go “off the record” unless you have good reason to trust the reporter. Some say there is no real “off the record.”
If you make an error, correct yourself as soon as possible.
Body Language During Interviews
Make eye contact with the reporter. If on camera, don’t stare at the camera.
If you are being interviewed at a remote location and the interviewer is in the studio or somewhere else, DO look straight into the camera.
Don’t be distracted by activity around you.
Sit up straight but not like a stick! It helps to keep your feet on the floor.
If you have a choice, decline to be interviewed while sitting on a couch. It is hard to sit up straight and you are often lower than your interviewer.
Don’t fidget. If standing, put one foot slightly in front of the other to avoid swaying.
Find a place to rest your hands and keep them there — folded in your lap works.
Use gestures sparingly and naturally.
Watch the nodding. Women tend to nod to acknowledge the reporter’s comments or questions, but it may be interpreted as agreement.
Wrapping it Up
Leave time for questions.
At the end of the interview, recap any commitments to get the reporter additional information and tell them when they can expect you to get back to them.
Leave behind your press materials. Make sure they include your contact information for follow up questions.
If you are not doing a live show, ask when the piece will run or air. If there were no plans to run a story before the interview, ask if the reporter plans to write a story.
Follow up on any materials or information you promise in a timely manner.
Some print reporters record their interviews. Be prepared to have your exact phrase transcribed. At the same time, be prepared to have in incorrectly transcribed!
Broadcast Tips in General
Raise your voice slightly for key points and emphasis.
Watch getting high pitched and “screechy” if you are the excitable type!
Ask reporter what they like to be called and call them by that name. First name basis can be helpful.
Use your voice to create variety and interest — no monotones.
Feel free to have notes of key points, facts, etc.
Paint a word picture. Remember that old adage, “see it on the radio.” Use examples and stories to “illustrate” your point.
Call-Ins: don’t let angry or hostile callers fluster you. Always take the high road.
Dress conservatively. Avoid short skirts, white shirts or loud ties. Solid, dark colors work well.
Men button coats if standing, unbutton if sitting.
Studios are cold with the lights off — ovens with the lights are on. Dress in mid-weight clothing.
Avoid shiny or dangly jewelry. Watch for jewelry banging against lavaliere mikes.
If you have the choice, choose contacts over glasses
If offered makeup, accept it. Men, 5 o’clock shadows show. Women, makeup should be only slightly heavier than normally worn.
When called without prior notice, find out if the reporter is on deadline. If they are not, ask if you can call them back. Set an acceptable time to allow yourself to prepare. Even 5 minutes can help improve your delivery.
Try and call from a quiet place or in a room where you can close the door. Outside noises can disturb the interview and are especially problematic when the interview is being recorded.
Use your notes — no on is watching!!
Satellite Television Interviews
Evolution & Revolution
The satellite television interview is one of the most common formats in television news today. It allows a guest or multiple guests to be interviewed via satellite by a host elsewhere from cities around the world. The format was pioneered by the ABC news program Nightline and came into being quite by accident during the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis. Because the producers of the first program were unable to get the desired guests on-set with anchorman Ted Koppel, they opted to have him interview the guests long distance. Soon, they realized this worked to the program’s advantage.
This format is also known as a “down-the-line” shoot or a “double-ender.” Today, virtually every television news operation has satellite (or live remote) interview capabilities allowing them to cover news more inexpensively and conduct interviews with persons who might otherwise have been unavailable or inaccessible.
Pros and Cons
From the interviewee’s point of view, satellite interviews are time-saving and efficient. A crew will often come to the executive’s location where the appropriate equipment including an uplink truck and satellite dish, camera and lights are set up. Or, at worst, the guest might have to go to a local studio.
One of the other great benefits of the satellite format is that it is the ONLY one in which the interviewee looks directly as his audience. That’s because he is looking squarely into the camera, rather than the usual three-quarter shot when being interviewed in-person. This provides greater opportunity for the executive to “connect” with his audience.
Further, satellite interviews are loved and hated for the same reason…lack of non-verbal feedback from the host and other guests. Some executives prefer this, because they feel they are able to concentrate better by focusing solely on the camera. Others find it disconcerting to be managing and “gauging” the interview purely by sound. When there are multiple guests in multiple locations being interviewed by satellite this can be especially challenging.
Screen “clutter” is a hallmark of most television business programs. That means at best a guest will be competing with more than one stock ticker running across the bottom of the screen, fluctuations in the stock exchange in a corner, other news headlines, and perhaps even the current time and temperature. In addition, text from the interview itself might also appear on the screen as the executive is electronically “squeezed” into a still smaller corner of the screen accounting for no more than a quarter of the surface area of the monitor! All this is distracting to the viewer and challenging for the guest.
Whether you are interviewed from your office, a local bureau of a cable channel or network, or from the floor of the stock exchange, be mindful that the minute you step in front of the camera or near a microphone, everything is on the record, even if the interview has not begun. A guest might wait anywhere from one minute to an hour for the interview to begin. Recognize that your microphone might accidentally be opened or an engineer could inadvertently flip a switch “beaming” you worldwide via satellite without you even knowing it. The rule of thumb is it’s all on the record until you see “the tail lights of the satellite truck driving away.”
The Technology – The IFB
The only equipment that a guest wears during a satellite interview is a lavaliere or wireless microphone and an IFB. IFB stands for “interruptible feedback” and is better known as the ear piece. This is the device through which the questions of the interviewer and comments from other guests can be heard. A technician wires the guest with this device. As a senior executive if it becomes likely that you will give frequent satellite interviews, it’s worth investing in a customized ear piece. An impression is taken of the ear and a plastic device made to fit precisely. Your own customized IFB can then be taken to different interviews providing better audio quality and comfort.
Use of a Monitor
If, as the guest you are asked if you’d like a monitor so that you might see the host and other guests during the interview, decline it. There is no need for one. More importantly, the presence of one will find you looking at it, and not and your audience. The only exception to this is if you would be asked to provide commentary of running video or what is also known as “b-roll.”
It is critical that almost 100 percent of one’s eye contact be in the center of the lens. For many, the natural reaction is to look up or down as they listen to a question or other guest. That is not a luxury in the satellite interview. The camera might be on you at any time. Again, look directly into the center of the lens.
The Greeting & the Close
The mistake that many executives make is to believe they are not on camera until introduced. The result is that the audience has been looking at the guest for several seconds, already making judgments about their credibility and likeability. Remember viewers come to some conclusions about you in less than 10 seconds.
Therefore, the moment you hear the host speaking, regardless of what she is saying, assume you are on-camera. That means have a smile on your face before the camera comes to you. Even if the subject matter involves human casualties or is particularly troubling, greet the audience affirmatively. If a smile is not appropriate, still nod and respond with, “Thank you for having me on your program,” or “thank you for allowing me to talk with your viewers.” The first impression generated should be that you want to be there. Later, thank the host for the opportunity to have been there.
Assume the interview is over only after you have received a convincing “all clear” or similar language from the technician or the field producer.
Multiple Guests in Multiple Locations – When the Heat Gets Turned Up
If there is more than one guest on the program, and if the topic is emotional or controversial, an interviewee must summon his best listening skills. If charges are leveled or outlandish statements made by an adversary or other party, it may be necessary to “interrupt” the discussion. This is accomplished not by shouting or verbal jousting with others. Rather by firmly but diplomatically appealing to the host and the audience. For example if the host is John Brown…
“John, if I may, I’d like to respond to what the other guest said so that we can be clear on…”
“John, I’m hearing incorrect information here and in fairness to your audience, I’d like to set the record straight…”
Careful consideration should be given to any satellite interview request involving multiple guests. Often the program producers will allow a guest to be interview alone before or after the group. At the same time, some issues or topics may demand a voice from the company be heard as part of a group interview.
More Tips For Satellite Interviews
Use your time wisely – Interviews on programs like CNBC’s Squawk Box and Power Lunch, and CNNfn’s Market Call run about four minutes. It’s rare that a satellite interview within a local news broadcast will last more than two minutes. Every question counts. Respond to each question, and “bridge” to your message repeatedly, using examples, anecdotes and stories to give your message life and credibility.
Build rapport with the crew – In years past a remote shot involved a camera operator, a technician to handle lights and sound, and a field producer. Today, competitive pressures and improvements in technology mean that you may face only one person to handle the set up and operate the camera. Some people find it comforting to talk about their topic with the onsite technician beforehand. Ask him or her to give you a clear signal when the interview is over and you are off the air.
Provide B-roll and graphics – Oftentimes stations will air background footage (b-roll) during your interview of interesting and related visuals that support your topic or issue. Offer footage and an electronic version of your logo to the station when you first have contact.
Get comfortable with the earpiece – Make certain your IFB earpiece is secured firmly in your ear and that you can hear the producer, host or anchor. Let the producer or onsite technician know if you need the volume turned up or down.
Listen closely – Oftentimes the reporter or anchor will precede your interview with an edited or taped story. Ask to listen to the story through the IFB earpiece so that you will know what has already been said on your subject. Minor inaccuracies are usually not worth correcting on the air; however it is okay to offer a correction if needed after answering your first question. Listen closely to each question and comment and find ways to “bridge” to your key messages.
Look directly into the camera – It’s your responsibility to build rapport with the audience through the lens of the camera. Put other distractions out of your mind and emote into the camera. Sit up straight, don’t swivel or lean, avoid tilting your head, and use gestures to engage the audience.
The camera is always on! – Expect that the camera is always recording both sound and visuals. You are always on, so maintain your composure, and smile if appropriate. Avoid scratching, and fiddling, and be careful about pre-program chatter with the technicians.
Consider your back drop – Be aware of the setting for your interview. While the field crew or producer may make the final decision feel free to suggest a backdrop or setting that supports your message or puts you in a positive environment. If you’re at the scene of an emergency expect to be interviewed in front of the emergency equipment or incident.
Also published on Medium.