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How to Prepare for a Broadcast Interview

An appearance on CNBC or an interview on NPR can help to make or break your company's reputation. Here's how to prepare for your big moment.

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Participating in a broadcast interview conducted by a television reporter can certainly be exciting—or nerve wracking, depending on your perspective.  The presence of a camera frequently changes the dynamic between the reporter and the subject.  And it is true that there are some different factors that you need to consider before an interview with the broadcast press.

A few important things to know about broadcast reporters: Whether they are working for a TV station or network, or for a radio program, they are typically asked to work under extremely tight deadlines. They often have little time to research a subject (particularly if the issue is one associated with breaking news.) They will rarely have any expertise in your field. And they will be expected to produce visually compelling reports that directly impact their viewers that are typically shorter then 2 or 3 minutes long.  The reporters are working with producers who will often do the initial background research and conversation with the interview subject, preparing the reporter in advance of the interview. 

The situation is somewhat different for talk shows (like the ones that populate MSNBC, Fox, and NPR); on these shows, producers will provide briefing packages for the host and you will typically have the opportunity to have an advance conversation about what your segment is on and what role you are being expected to fill.

For the purposes of this step-by-step guide, we'll assume that the interview you are about to give is for positive purposes—to promote a new product, highlight your leadership or address a topical news issue that intersects with your business.  If you are thrust onto the local news for an unexpected and negative reason, please check out our guide to crisis communications.

Preparing for a Broadcast Interview: The Basics

Although this guide will focus on specific steps you need to take to make a broadcast interview successful, it's important to remember the basics for any press interview.

• Know what your three key messages are that you want to deliver – and make sure you can deliver them succinctly, with plenty of lively examples and facts in support.

• Anticipate difficult questions and prepare your answers; even in positive reports, a tough question or two will emerge and stumbling on tape can throw you off your game for the rest of the interview.

• Do your research. Just because the reporter may not know much about you, don't make the same mistake.  Understanding the nature of the show you are appearing on —NPR's Marketplace is very different from a segment of the local nightly news—will help you target your message correctly.

Dig Deeper: How to Talk to the Press About Your Company 

Preparing for a Broadcast Interview: Choosing Your Words Carefully

Though it is certainly true you need to be succinct and compelling when talking to a newspaper reporter, it is doubly important to in the world of broadcast.  Studies have found that the average TV soundbite is around seven seconds long. That's fast. Real fast.

To get an idea of how compact your comments should be, have a staffer "interview" you before a big TV segment with a stopwatch in hand, so that you can get a feel for how long your answers are.  You don't need to keep your total answer to 7 seconds, but you do want to make sure you have some good words and phrases that can easily be extracted by the reporter and editors.

There are far fewer live interviews today than ever before, but it is important to treat the interview as though it were being broadcast at that moment.  Why?  Thanks to the Internet, many news outlets are looking for extra content to post on their website and will often put up unedited versions of your TV or radio interview. You don't want to be in a situation where a few good soundbites make it on air, only to have a long, rambling interview live on online.

Dig Deeper: Kelly Cutrone's Advice for PR Success

Preparing for a Broadcast Interview: Have Some Visuals in Mind

TV reporters need good visuals to back up your story.  The more ideas you give them, the more certain you can be that the visual elements match what you are saying.  Also, be prepared to do some background footage (for the reporter to do a voice over in the final segment) at the end of the interview.  The camera man or reporter will ask you to sit at your desk, type an e-mail, answer the phone or walk down the hall.  I'd recommend practicing doing all of these things so you feel at ease when the request is made.

Dig Deeper: Selling Your Product on QVC

Preparing for a Broadcast Interview: Look Your Best

Though this may sound shallow, I highly recommend a fresh haircut, an external eye on your wardrobe and a careful hand with makeup in advance of an interview.  It can be very distracting when a CEO is looking unkempt.  Not to mention, you'll be more confident if you know you look your best and that will shine through in the interview.  

A few simple tips:

•  Wear clothes that are neat, clean and comfortable.  Avoid distracting patterns, stripes and bright colors.  Certainly let your personality show through, but your suit isn't being interviewed, you are.

• Men should make sure that any facial hair is trimmed.

• Women or men with long hair should make sure it is pulled back, particularly if an interview will take place outside (where an ill-timed gust of wind can make your hair more of the interview subject than you are.)

• On TV as in life, combovers should be avoided.

•  Try to match your wardrobe with your role.  No one expects the CEO of a construction company to be wearing a navy pinstriped suit from Brooks Brothers.  Your clothes can and should support your message. (That said, we advise that you avoid wearing a polo shirt with your company's logo on it—shameless self promotion is a turn off.)

Dig Deeper: How to Buy a Tie Worthy of a CEO
   
Preparing for a Broadcast Interview: Vocal Inflection

Nothing kills a good interview quicker than a monotonous tone of voice. This is true on both TV and radio. Speaking in a flat tone of voice makes it difficult for the reporter to identify the soundbites and key points you are making in the editing room.

More important, your tone should reinforce the idea that you are excited, passionate, concerned, engaged – in other words, you want to back up what you are saying with how you are saying it.  You shouldn't conduct the interview in hyper-drive, of course, but when you have a point that is important to you, your tone of voice should reflect it.

Though issues of tone should come naturally, many people are nervous enough about a broadcast interview that they lose their normal vocal personality.  Practice is helpful here. Figure out which words or phrases are most important to you and practice ways to emphasize them vocally without sounding fake.

Dig Deeper: Three More Tips for Getting Yourself Heard

Preparing for a Broadcast Interview:  Hand Gestures and Body Language

Like vocal inflection, hand gestures and body language are very important. The way you move during an interview can animate the discussion in a way that supports your point of view and credibility.  This is as true for a radio interview (surprisingly) asit is for TV; often, if your hands are animated, your voice will follow.  Some people (including me, a very expressive Italian American!) use hand gestures without thinking; other people keep their hands pinned to the side during broadcast conversations. Practice can help you here. Practice a few simple gestures in the mirror (pointing to emphasize, counting on your fingers, etc.) and see what works for you.

For TV interviews, you should also practice delivering your message both standing and sitting.  It feels different to do a conversation standing and you need to be prepared for the intensity.  If you are sitting, be careful not to swivel in your chair, rock back and forth, or lean away from the reporter.  All three habits are distracting andundermine the audience's trust and confidence in you.

Finally, the physical position to avoid at all costs – your arms crossed in front of your body.  It may be natural or comfortable, but crossing your arms reads on camera as a defensive and closed off posture, and one that will not serve you well.  

Dig Deeper: A Guide to Nonverbal Communication

Preparing for a Broadcast Interview:  Eye Contact

During a TV interview, keep your eyes on the reporter, not the camera.  The camera man will typically be positioned so that if you do so, your gaze will be direct into the camera.  Be careful not to stare off to the side and up into the air, since both will indicate to the audience that you are not trustworthy.  And please, if you are asked a dumb question, don't roll your eyes!  

Dig Deeper: The Day I Was Interviewed by Katie Couric

Preparing for a Broadcast Interview: Final Thoughts

Even the most confident individual may find a broadcast interview to be intimidating. But practice does make perfect. If you plan on going on TV frequently, I would highly recommend that you find a qualified media trainer to conduct mock interviews on camera.  Doing so will give you video to watch and dissect, and an outside eye to identify verbal and physical ticks that could limit your effectiveness.

Last updated: May 4, 2010




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