Imagine you’re on live television giving an interview and it happens: The journalist asks a question and you don’t have an answer. For those of us who serve as spokespeople, being caught off guard during an interview is what nightmares are made of.
It happens all the time. Earlier this month, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh experienced the awkwardness firsthand when he was asked to comment on a recent opinion editorial written by China’s ambassador to Canada that claimed calls to release two Canadians being detained in China are rooted in white supremacy.
“Sorry, who accused who of white supremacy?” asked Singh. Yikes.
The truth is, we’re all human. We won’t always have the answers. But there are steps we can take to ensure our comments don’t make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Here are a few tips and tricks to consider before your next interview:
Don’t skimp on preparation
We all love a good briefing note, right? When preparing for an interview, a good habit to adopt is taking time to brainstorm questions and scenarios. What makes you newsworthy? Why are you being interviewed? What else is happening in the world that is relevant to your organization? Have similar organizations been in the news recently? What do you know about the reporter? Taking time to research, ask questions, and familiarize yourself with relevant current events will help reduce the likelihood of getting stumped when it’s showtime.
Another tip is to invite a colleague or friend to brainstorm with you and practice your responses to tricky questions. A fresh perspective can help ensure you’re seeing the big picture.
Treat each interview as an opportunity
Whether it’s with a national network or a community newspaper, each interview is a chance to communicate with your audience and build the profile of your organization. When developing your key messages, think about your target audience. By keeping your messaging simple, crisp, and consistent, you will increase the likelihood of having it stick long after the interview has ended.
Remember to bridge
If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t panic. If you’ve done your research and have key messages in your back pocket ready to be delivered, this is the perfect time to use a bridging statement. It is not the time to guess, speculate, or say, “no comment”. A few bridging statements to consider are:
- “Let me emphasize…”
- “What I can say is…”
- “What matters most to us is…”
- “That’s important but don’t forget…”
- “Let me put that in perspective…”
Being a good speaker doesn’t necessarily make you a good interviewee. It isn’t just about what you say, how you say it is also important. When serving as a spokesperson or offering commentary as a subject matter expert, it is important to think about your tone, energy, backdrop, appearance, and gestures. Your appearance is a critical part of your message and influences how your audiences perceive—and remember—you.
The key to delivering a successful interview is preparation. Being armed with the right tools and honing your skills will help you stay on track, own your narrative, and project confidence to your audience. And will help avoid turning you into the next viral video or meme on social media.
Still feeling nervous? We can help. Our media training program exists to coach you through all aspects of radio, print, and television interviews. From statements to scrums, we’ve got you covered.
——— Bridget Burgess is a former Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations