As nonprofit leaders, we’re often called upon to speak with the media. For many, this can be one of the scariest responsibilities of being a leader. But with a little practice and a few key points, you can knock it out of the park.
Please note: These suggestions are intended for general, non-crisis interviews.
- Before the interview, ask a few key questions.
- How long will the interview be?
- Will it be used as a whole, or edited?
- Are you supposed to look at the interviewer or at the camera? (Almost certainly you should look at the interviewer.)
- Know your main points.
What are the 2-3 points you want to make? You don’t want to end the interview without saying these points at least once each.
- Get these points down to 8- to 10-second sound bites.
Whether for broadcast or print, your interviewer is likely going to have to slice up your interview into short quotes. Make it easy on them, and ensure that you get your points across, by giving them statements they can use. If you answer each question by talking for two minutes, their job gets much harder. You risk having only a small slice of what you said appear in the final piece.
- Make a list of the most likely questions, and also the toughest ones.
Chances are that you can anticipate just about everything you’ll be asked. This will prevent you from stumbling in the moment.
You need to run though a mock interview — alone or with a stand-in interviewer — at least three times before the real interview. I do this alone, and always out loud. If you’re embarrassed to be heard practicing out loud in your office, go sit in your car and do it.
During the Interview
- Use almost any question to get your points across.
When the interviewer asks you a question, your job is to figure out in the moment how to answer it and cycle back around to your main points. You don’t want these transitions to be nonsensical, but if you have even the slightest opportunity to pivot back to your main points, do it.
- Stop talking.
In everyday conversation, we often allow ourselves to trail off at the end of our statements, like we’re not quite done with the thought but we’re ready for the other person to jump in. In a recorded interview, this doesn’t work — your interviewer needs to know you’re done, so when you finish a point, just stop talking.
Smiling people are more likable — a key to coming across well on-camera. Even if your interview is for radio or over the phone, people can hear you smiling. It will also help your interviewer feel more enthusiastic about your interview.
Dealing With a Curveball
Every once in a while, you might find yourself fielding an adversarial question. Even in a fairly routine interview, a journalist might throw you a curveball, trying to put you on the spot or scoop a deeper story. The same strategies above are useful in that setting, plus these additional suggestions:
- Remember, you saw this coming.
If you truly thought through all the possible questions they might ask, you probably had a suspicion this might come up. So since you’ve already practiced answering the question, you’re all good, right?
- You don’t have to accept the premise of the question.
If the interviewer asks you a provocative question, they will often build in an assumption. “Isn’t it true that your organization uses public funds to enable people to make bad choices?” Or, “Why is it that you don’t serve enough people in need?”
You don’t have to respond directly to their question, nor to the assumption they made or the offense you might take. Chances are, their question won’t be heard in the final piece, so by responding to it or restating it, you’re handing them a quotable quote. Instead, just state the facts and restate your relevant key points. Getting argumentative about the premise of the question risks your control and your trustworthiness, especially on camera.
- Never say “No comment.”
Saying “no comment” is making a comment. You risk that statement being quoted in the piece, which can be perceived very negatively. Instead, try “I will have to get the answer for that question and get back to you. When’s your deadline?” And then actually get back to them.
Media coverage is one of the best things that can happen to your organization. It introduces new constituents to your cause, effectively serving as free advertising. It also excites your Board and volunteers, many of whom will tune in or watch online to see their cause earn some media coverage.
So this is a great chance to advance your professional reputation as a leader by acing the interview. Your Board and others will be left to feel at ease knowing that the organization is in capable hands.
And perhaps most importantly, you’ll be proud of how you did and build up your confidence for next time.
Question: There’s no doubt I’ve missed something. What strategies have you used to ace an interview with the media? Please leave a comment. And special thanks to all those who click the “Share” buttons below for social media — this really helps get the word out about this blog. Thank you!