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preparing executives for media interviews

3 Steps for Preparing Executives for Media Interviews

Michelle Garrett

Aug 25, 2019

Let’s be honest—some executives are born to be spokespeople—while others need training.

After all, even if you’re an expert on a particular topic, it can be nerve wracking to stand in front of a camera or speak while someone is recording what you say. The last thing you want is that deer in the headlights look, that blank stare or dead silence as the spokesperson freezes up in front of the camera or mic.

Feeling stressed in these situations isn’t uncommon. 75% of people have glossophobia, which is a fear of public speaking—of which media interviews are a form.

While positioning executives as industry leaders is invaluable, preparing them for interviews via any medium is nothing to gloss over.

How Should You Prepare an Executive for an Interview?

1. Determine Your key points.

“To succeed at media interviews, what executives need most are the one to three points that best support the organization’s brand, mission, or campaign. Often this is the ‘who and what’ behind the news, but it is just as crucially the ‘why,’” said Joel Schwartzberg, Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for a major national nonprofit organization, a presentation coach, and author of “Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter.”

Schwartzberg says an effective way to source your key points is to ask,What one or two things does the audience need to know to activate their interest or behavior?”

The goal is for an executive to sound authentic, but it doesn’t hurt to draft key talking points in advance. You may even want to interview your executive yourself, then write up the results in paragraphs, as an outline, or in bullet form.

2. Don’t wing it. Practice makes perfect.

“Even the best speakers are going to have a bad time if they go into an interview and wing it,” says Erik Bernstein, vice president, Bernstein Crisis Management. “Know what you want your audience to come away remembering and how you’ll get them there.”

And when your spokesperson practices, it should be done audibly.

“Executives need to practice answering interview questions and making points out loud,” Schwartzberg emphasized. “Some may think it’s okay to practice in their heads, but that misses the point. This interview isn’t happening through telepathy—it’s happening out loud. So executives need to practice the task of having their minds and their mouths collaborate to produce meaningful points.”

What happens if a spokesperson doesn’t know the answer to a question? They should embrace the silence—and not to say something they wish they hadn’t. It’s okay for them to take a pause while collecting their thoughts. 

3. Prepare for the medium.

Be it for a digital or print publication, a podcast, or a video interview, follow these tips to get your executive spokesperson prepped for his or her moment in the spotlight:

  • Digital or print: These interviews often take place over the phone. If that’s the case, you’ll need to work even harder to ensure that you’re connecting with the interviewer. Be sure to take a pause occasionally. Check in to ask if the interviewer has any questions. Remember that not everyone is an expert on the topic you’re speaking about, so the reporter conducting the interview may need you to expand on certain points or explain the background.
  • Podcast: For a podcast interview, be sure to have a good mic. If anything will make a sound during your guest appearance (coworkers, pets, kids, etc.), take care to close your door.“ There should be no distractions. Turn off your IM, stop multitasking and responding to emails (the interviewer can hear you typing). Don’t eat food, chew gum, or drink from an ice-filled glass,” says Kira Hug, host of The Daily Hug.
  • Video: A live interview—or an interview that’s being videotaped—is more complicated than appearing either in print or on a podcast, simply because you’re on camera. That means you need to be aware of your appearance, the background and so on. Schwartzberg suggests, “Don’t fidget. Remove change from your pockets and don’t have anything in your hands that will distract or indicate nervousness.”

The Followup: Evaluate the Media Interview

After the interview, be sure to monitor the media for coverage using a tool like Meltwater. Evaluate the spokesperson’s performance and use this experience to improve for the next opportunity.

The more they practice, the faster executive spokespeople will learn the ins and outs of media interviews—and become more comfortable exercising this vital skill.

Next Steps: Are Your Executives on Board?

You’ve now got the tools to prepare an executive for media interviews. But you may need to take a step back and convince them that it’s worthwhile for them to spend their valuable time on brand coverage. Start by showing them what your competitors’ execs are doing. Do they have an edge as respected spokespeople? Is this an opportunity for your brand to take the lead on thought leadership? Business leaders tend to understand the value of a healthy rivalry. Read our tip sheet on benchmarking your brand against the competition for tips on sparking their killer instincts.

Once they’ve bought in, take them a step farther and onto social media. Read our ebook on social media for executives, and share with them examples of top companies whose executives are making invaluable contributions to brand awareness.

Want to get more interview tips? Read 3 Customer Interview Tips for a Great Case Study