The 13 Golden Rules of How to Behave During an Interview

19/09/2010
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When you meet a journalist, it means you have (most probably) already done your homework in terms of preparing what you want to say to the journalist. This means you know who you’re going to meet and why. You’re thoroughly prepared, you have your key messages clear in your mind, and you’re eager to share them with your stakeholders. To make sure the final media outcome will meet your expectations, here are a few golden rules that, if respected, will make your media communication a very efficient process.

  1. The audience is the secret. You will talk to a journalist, but the journalist is there to represent an audience. He mediates communication between you and a group of people who can be anyone, from tabloid-hungry readers to financial investors. That audience includes your stakeholders: your clients, business partners, bankers, etc. When you talk to a journalist, you are actually addressing your stakeholders. Bear that in mind and it will help you shape your message much more clearly.
  2. Be on time. Would you be late if the journalist you’re meeting is your most lucrative client? Probably not. Respect the journalist and you will be respected.
  3. Be polite, open and helpful. When you enter a room, greet the people in there – the journalist, his staff (photographer, operator, sound assistant) etc. This includes your own PR staff, if present. If the encounter takes place within your premises, make sure you treat the media crew as your guests. Help them get some drinks, make them feel comfortable. This would create a relaxed atmosphere that will help you during the interview.
  4. Rule the rules. If the journalist doesn’t start by telling you the rules of the interview, take initiative and do it yourself. Ask once more about the section / broadcast time where the story will go and restate what you are ready to talk about. If you agree to talk about your company’s performance, don’t go and speak about your last summer holidays. It might be appropriate for an informal meeting, but during the interview it might be a waste of time.
  5. Say ‘no’ with a reason. If any of the rules the journalist tells you is not all right with you, feel free to say so. Yet, make sure you give a good reason for your refusal – for example, you can’t speak about your latest financial results because you’re listed on the stock exchange and your results haven’t been published yet. Make sure you only oppose rightful things. Nothing is more annoying than a source who behaves like a bride in her first wedding night. For example, if you’re not properly dressed for a photo session and the journalist has come with a photographer, it’s very annoying to refuse the photo session. Journalists want to takes pictures of you as you speak and saying ‘no’ to pictures means saying ‘no’ to the whole interview. Make sure your image represents you before you meet the media and say ‘no’ only when you have a solid reason to do so.
  6. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen to the question carefully and answer to the point. Don’t digress. For radio and TV, stick with answers around 15 seconds. For the print, stick with answers around two minutes. If you don’t, you run the risk to be cut and the final outcome might surprise you – unpleasantly.
  7. Don’t get lost into details. The journalist isn’t there to take over your job. He doesn’t need to know all the details your work involves; he just needs a good story. If he needs more details, he can simply ask for them.
  8. Avoid professional slang. You’re not talking to a technical engineer; you’re talking to your stakeholders. Directly, you’re talking to a journalist who has most probably written stories on politics, energy, finance, ecology and maybe lifestyle for the last two weeks. His job isn’t to be a specialist, but to know whom to call when he needs special advice. Even if the specialist in you is screaming with frustration, let your professional slang for your colleagues and use a human language for the media.
  9. Don’t patronize. The journalist might not know all the details of your business, but that doesn’t make him dumb. That’s why he’s there, to get some information from you. Even in extreme cases when it’s obvious the journalist isn’t prepared for the interview, don’t patronize. Use the opportunity to inform, educate and pass your key messages through. If you patronize, you run the risk of facing an aggressive and suspicious journalist. That’s not the atmosphere you want to create for your media talk.
  10. Use concrete facts, figures, funny stories, comparisons, metaphors and anything else that helps you illustrate your point. Such colorful statements will most probably be the ones that will carry your messages out to the audience.
  11. Don’t take it personally. During the interview, a journalist must take notes, listen to you, check on the technical equipment and keep an eye on time to make sure he’ll make it for the next job assignment. If he’s not maintaining eye contact with you all the time, don’t take it personally or as a sign of ignorance. He’s just doing his job. As for you, try to maintain eye contact all the time.
  12. Never ask for authorization. There is nothing more annoying for a professional journalist than a source who doesn’t trust his work. By the contrary, if the journalist is fast to offer you an authorization, beware – the journalist is most probably too lazy or too busy to check the details by himself. In that case, do help with a story check. Make sure you only change incorrect facts and figures and stay away from changing the text into an unpaid advertisement. Plus, send the authorization in time. Otherwise you might have the surprise that the wrong version of your story hits the stands the second day in the morning because your proof-read version got to the editor too late, after the story had already been sent to the printer.
  13. Stay open and helpful after the interview ends. Tell the journalist he can call you anytime to clarify names, figures and events. Short text messages (SMS) are a great fast tool to avoid little mistakes getting into the story. Offering your mobile number to a journalist isn’t a sin after all – it’s much better to get a phone call at an inappropriate moment than to be confronted with an article that distorts your speech and make you look ignorant or incompetent to your colleagues, bosses and business stakeholders.
I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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