This is a guest post by Inna Alexeeva, CEO of PR Partner, an IESE Global Executive MBA graduate and an expert in helping leaders work effectively with the press. Here she shares some tips for leaders in preparing for media interviews.
How to speak with the Media
Giving an interview to media is stressful for most people. The speaker’s knees shake, he keeps adjusting his tie or watch-band, he stutters, coughs or repeatedly touches his ears – nervousness shows itself in many ways. Even those who deliver lots of interviews and prepare them thoroughly still feel nervous. In this column, I will tell you about some steps to overcome the fear.
Know How to Introduce Yourself
“conversation starts with an introduction where “I” cannot be omitted”
Where I live, in Russia, it is not customary to speak too much about oneself. Many people are used to hiding behind the collective “we” and never speak for or about themselves. However, a successful interview in the modern world is an open conversation filled with references to first-hand experiences. And any business conversation starts with an introduction where “I” cannot be omitted.
You must learn how to introduce yourself in front of a camera (even if you never give TV interviews). Record yourself and watch the video critically, assess your appearance, speech, gestures, tone and tempo of your voice. I would recommend preparing and memorising a 30-second self-presentation that consists of the following:
- Speaking for 10 seconds about your past, with a brief an account of your work experience
- 10 seconds about your present, what are you doing now
- 10 seconds about the future, your plans
Such a self-presentation is easy to use in interviews, at press conferences or during a broadcast (if appropriate). Make it a rule to start any public communication (a press briefing or an address to employees) by introducing yourself and your company. Don’t be too modest.
Prepare three stories
“It would be great for each of the company’s speakers to have 3-5 simple, clear stories about life in the company”
There is no need to tell jokes. Think of the simplest, commonplace stories related to yourself and your company. For example, how you came to work for the company, how a leader hired an employee for the first time. It may be a story about mergers or takeovers or about the last company’s acquisition that will be easily remembered by the audience. Remember the story, write it down, put aside your piece of paper, tell the story in front of the camera, and then watch yourself. What would you like to change? Tell it again. And again. You don’t have to make anything up, just give an account of what has really happened.
I would like to share a little trick with you. If you often have to give interviews in an office, put up an art print or photo on the wall that will suggest the desired topic to the audience. For instance, while looking at Picasso’s Dove, we can talk about peace, environmental protection, the importance of negotiation, etc. It will be a trick up your sleeve. You can buy a set of 100 art posters from the MIF Printing House. They will certainly trigger interesting associations.
It would be great for each of the company’s speakers to have 3-5 simple, clear stories about life in the company. Each story should take no more than three minutes.
Employees, colleagues, partners, journalists and other target audiences will know your stories, remember them, and contact you for further details if the need arises. This doesn’t mean in any way that you will be using only these stories for 20 years of participating in public debates. Your story portfolio will expand as you become aware of the stories happening around you.
Put Clear Structure in your Interview Content
Do not write down the complete text answering all questions beforehand. In Soviet times, students at schools and universities were asked to prepare abstracts that were subsequently presented in front of the class. Secretaries typed speeches for leaders verbatim, exactly as dictated. Nowadays, less than 10% of speakers use prompters and most leaders rehearse and deliver speeches spontaneously.
Of course, having a sheet of paper with a prepared speech for an interview within reach gives us more confidence, but if we want to have a greater emotional impact and create an atmosphere of trust, we’d be better off forgetting about it. We do not confess love with a piece of paper. We do not apologize with a piece of paper. And a piece of paper will not help us become a good speaker.
Three to five key points are enough for the entire speech. I suggest creating associograms (also known as mind maps) to remember everything. An associogram is a schematic drawing that consists of the main topic of your interview in the middle and 10-12 arrows with tips (sub-topics) that come out of it in different directions.
Let’s say you would like to talk about charity at your company. The following arrows will come out of the word charity: funds, money, employees, plans, achievements, etc. When a speaker looks at such an associogram, it is easier for him or her to remember which sub-topics they have missed and which are yet to be mentioned.
This will make your speech natural and spontaneous and you won’t have to frantically recall what you wrote yesterday.
Use Numbers and Facts
If stories are a way to listeners’ hearts, numbers are a way to their minds. Infographics for interviews could contain numbers, percentages, basically anything with digits. If you’ve got no ideas whatsoever, you can always compare your national indicators with the foreign ones or track interim changes, or make a forecast. Look for consistent patterns and share them with the journalist.
Rehearse your answers to likely questions
A good 15-minute TV interview will take between 3 to 30 hours to prepare. You have to rehearse your answers at least three times.
Ask for feedback from a friendly PR person. If you need, reach out to me!
Encourage your PRs to be honest. I think it is obvious why getting feedback may be helpful. It helps you to correct your mistakes faster and grow as a speaker.
Keep giving interviews and talks!
Maybe today your interviews are not so great, but the more you practice, the more thoughtful and effective the speeches you make in front of the camera, to the company’s employees or in the studio will become.
- A parents’ meeting at a primary school,
- a speech at a sports club,
- congratulations to school teachers,
- toasts at weddings and birthdays — you should use any chance to speak in public, not only media interviews!
Schedule 52 speeches for any reason a year (one a week), and I can promise you that, in just 12 months, you will become a very good speaker!
Recommended Books for an aspiring speaker
5 services for great presentations
4 services for colorful infographics
About Inna Alexeeva
Winner of the 12th RuPoR PR Person of the Year Award for public relations development. The author of more than 200 media publications. Co-author of the book High Сaliber PR: How to Make a Top Manager a Star (Mann, Ivanov & Ferber, 2008). Author of Training Top Officials to Work with the Media, Secrets of Effective PR, 100% PR: Reboot, and other training programs. Her clients include Shell, Audi, Coca-Cola, UniCredit Bank, Autodesk, Sberbank, Russian Railways, Sistema Joint-Stock Financial Corporation, Rostelecom, RussNeft, Beeline, AES, Kazakhmys, Konica Minolta, Vozrozhdenie Bank, AVON and SAP.