Marketing & Communications Centre > Marketing Essentials > Help Sheets > Tips on Conducting a Successul Interview

Tips on Conducting a Successful Interview

The help sheet Preparing for an Interview listed ways your community group or organisation can make sure it is best prepared for an interview with the media.

And while good preparation will go a long way towards making sure your interview is a success, there are other tips you should remember during the interview itself.

Be clear on what the story is about.

Stick to the main message you want to deliver and avoid commenting on irrelevant areas or on topics or issues that you are not fully informed about.

Tailor your responses to be quotable, attractive and address the issue.

If in doubt, ask the reporter to clarify the question or simply say that that is not an area that you have any expertise in.

Avoid putting out wrong information.

Be careful to avoid providing either dated or incorrect information to a journalist that could make your group appear sloppy or ill-informed. It is better to say you will find out the latest information and call back than take a guess.

And prior to making any claims about the quality, characteristics, sponsorship, price, place of origin, existence or effect of a warranty, etc. in relation to goods and services make sure that your statements are in fact true and not false or misleading.

Again if there is any doubt about the information you have, don't use it. Instead, tell the journalist you'll check your facts and call them back. If you can't answer a question without guessing, then don't.

In both situations, having a prepared statement or sound bite ready for use can be handy, and definitely a safer option if the interview is live. It's another reason why you should always go into an interview prepared with the up-to-date and relevant information you need.

Finally, if you are caught off-guard by a question, and you don't have a comment prepared, say so. Say something like: "That's a good question, and we have people gathering that information. A statement will be released as soon we have that information available."

Be as specific as possible in your answers.

Both reporters and audiences like human stories. If you know a short illustrative personal story or example, use it. Use examples rather than concepts.

Take your time answering questions and choose your words.

Better to take a couple of seconds to think about your response and get it right than jump at the question nervously and risk being off-balance or unprepared.

Take your time answering questions – radio and TV can always edit around a second of silence, and for press it doesn't matter. It's also better to form the thought in your mind and say it clearly, concisely and accurately than to uhm and ah.

Answer questions one at a time.

If a reporter asks you a multi-part question, answer them one by one, or answer the first question and ask them to repeat the next one.

Another option is to take the part of the question you want to answer and answer it, putting your message across.

Don't be afraid to ask the reporter to repeat the question.

It's better to be clear on the question and be able to provide a clear answer.

If after repeating the question it is still unclear, again ask the reporter to rephrase it until you are clear on what they are asking.

Don't be afraid to recycle your messages in an interview.

Subtly repeating or re-using your main themes in an interview will help ensure your group's message main themes are conveyed in an attractive statement or sound bite.

Listen to politicians use a dozen different – and totally unrelated – questions to come back to their central theme of the day.

Never say "no comment."

Prepare answers for tough questions in advance. If a question is too loaded or too controversial to touch with a forty-foot pole, switch back to your prepared message or sound bite. Often people say "No comment" when they don't know the answer. The impression you leave is that you do know the answer and – for whatever reason, are hiding it.

Listen to experienced interviewees (especially politicians) use a far more practiced way of saying nothing.

Say the full name of your group when you refer to it.

Use your group's full name early in the interview, and work it into the interview two or three times. That way you get your name in print.

If your group uses an acronym in place of its name, think about saying your name and then using the acronym after that.

Be quotable; show a bit of life.

Work on developing sound bites and statements that sum up your message in a few brief sentences. Break down technical language or complicated concepts into well-crafted press lines.

Show a bit of life as well – have a few good "quotable quotes" at the ready and use them throughout the interview to get your messages across.

One thing that won't get your messages across is providing just "yes" and "no" answers. Doing this does not make you quotable.

If they ask "Are the cuts bad for children?" and you just say "Yes", it gives the media nothing to work with or quote.

If however you say "The cuts will mean that our children will have to collect wild fennel to get a nutritionally adequate lunch", your statement will probably be the first one they use and they will remember your group for next time.

Offer to follow up the interview with further information.

If your group or its spokesperson shows a willingness to help a journalist as much as possible, the journalist is more likely to not only use your comments, but return to you for more comments in the future.

Offer to send them further background material or information via email or fax – particularly if you are dealing with financial statements, figures or complicated data.

Also, if you have been unable to answer a question in full, offer to ring the reporter back once you have gathered further information.

Not only does this help the journalist, but it also makes sure your group's information is quoted accurately.

Don't argue with the reporter.

Having a shouting match with the journalist interviewing you will only make your group lose credibility. Try to remain calm and make your point forcefully, but not hysterically.

If the reporter continues to be belligerent, unnecessarily pursue a line of questioning you don't like, or tires to impose their agenda onto your group, you have to grit your teeth. And keep coming back to the central point.

Simply say that you are not there to argue, continue to repeat your group's prepared sound bites and avoid "returning fire".

Finally, a tip for TV interviews:

The camera sees everything.

The camera is the all-seeing eye. Don't fidget, put your hands on your face, chew gum, or play with buttons, tiepins, pens, paper or earrings.    
Also, don't nod to everything that is said. Nodding is a natural reaction in private life when we understand something; but on TV it looks silly.

Not only that, it could also be interpreted by viewers as agreement, or even edited to appear as such.

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