Grabbing headline in pandemic Ann Buchner
You may think that the job of a journalist and an interviewee are poles apart. After all, the journalist gets to write the story – you don’t. Only they get to ask the questions, while you have to provide the answers. Plus the journalist is really experienced at playing the media game, while you probably feel like a novice and out of your depth. But the roles of interviewer and interviewee are actually much closer than you think. If you approach your interview strategically and think like a journalist, you can actually deliver a better media interview performance. 1 Research A journalist will do some background research on you, your business, your area of expertise or the issue you are commenting on in order to create interview questions. You need to do the same to get a sense of their interview style and to anticipate the type of questions you may be asked. For example, an interview with a reporter from a national TV show like Today Tonight is likely to include very different questions than one with your local newspaper or an industry-based magazine. A simple Internet search of the journalist’s name and the media outlet they work for will throw up examples of issues they have been reporting on recently and even comments they have posted on social media like Twitter. Taking the time to read, watch or listen to previous stories by the journalist you will help you prepare a game plan to ensure you are well prepared for the interview. 2 Statistics When used correctly, statistics are a very powerful tool to support your messages and make your quotes memorable. Journalists love statistics because they grab the audience’s attention, create strong headlines and can help to make complex issues seem pretty straightforward. The key is to be creative with how you use them. For example it was recently reported in the UK that 3.3 million people in their early twenties and thirties live with their parents. In the USA, the figure is around 32%. Those are big numbers that are hard for an audience to remember. How about when it is presented as one in four people in the UK and one in three people in the USA in their early twenties and early thirties now live with their parents? Suddenly those figure are more relatable, much easier to put into context and now have a ‘wow’ factor. 3 Plain English Journalists hate jargon. It makes quotes and sound bites unusable and can cause audiences to lose interest and switch off. Your important message could end up on the cutting room floor if it is full of acronyms, industry jargon or corporate speak. One of the keys to a successful interview is to use clear, simple language the audience will understand. Use the same language you would use to tell the story to a family member or friend who does not work in the industry. 4 Support your messages A journalist won’t present a story full of unsupported claims and statements, and the same rule applies to the messages you use your media interview. Without evidence or examples to back up your key points, they are simply rhetoric. Think about how you can support your messages with facts, figures or real life case studies. By having an interesting and diverse range of supporting evidence you can make your key point over and over again without sounding repetitive. 5 Human interest People love stories about other people, which is why journalists always gravitate towards the human-interest angle in stories. A common phrase you will hear in a newsroom is ‘so what?’ It’s also a question your audience subconsciously asks themselves when they are deciding to believe or “buy” your story. You need to show what impact your idea, your product or your service will have on people – your community, your customers, your clients. Include real-life examples and anecdotes to support your messages. Audiences don’t have the same fascination for policies, initiatives and protocols. Heart-breaking and heart-warming stories always get attention. 6 Sound bites The shorter and more succinct your message, the easier it is for people to understand and remember it. A journalist’s radar is finely tuned to detect short, sharp, snappy “grabs” sound bites and quotes because they are attention grabbing, make great headlines and can enable a story to be boiled down to a 6 to 10 second clip of around 20 words Strong sound bites can also get more coverage as the reporter can use them in the headlines at the start of the news as well as in the main story. Short, pithy messages are also less likely to be harshly edited or misinterpreted. Some spokespeople feel their message is too complicated to be delivered in such a succinct manner and it can seem daunting. But, as Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 7 The big picture Journalists are understandably going to be pretty clued up on what is currently on the news agenda and are likely to have a good understanding of the wider issues impacting your sector. This means that at some point during the interview, generally towards the end, the spokesperson could face a ‘while I’ve got you here’ type question on an unrelated, but topical, issue. For example, a business leader being interviewed about the number of apprentices they are taking on could face a question about the impact Brexit is having on their sector, or possibly about an issue affecting a rival company. The key for the spokesman is to try to anticipate the sort of wider issues they could get asked about in an interview and prepare how they will respond without detracting from their main message.
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