The phone rings. It's a journalist who wants to ask you a few questions for a story she's writing. You, flattered, take the call and flub your way through the interview, because off the top of your head, you can't remember your elevator pitch or a single talking point about your business or product. Oops!
Many of us will be called upon by the media for a quote or more, and knowing how to prepare will eliminate much of your anxiety as well as set the stage for an article you can be proud of.
Pointer 1: You can't control what the reporter writes
You hope that if you prepare an answer to every possible question and give as much detail as possible in your responses, your interview will be published verbatim with brilliant and accurate quotes, and everything in the article will be exactly as you want it.
No matter what you say or how you say it, the reporter always gets the final word. Literally. Your quotes will be taken out of context. Your key points will be edited, condensed and paraphrased. The reporter will decide which points are most important to write about - especially if you have given so much information that the reporter can't tell which ones are your key points.
This is not to say that the reporter is out to get you, or deliberately trying to undermine you. It's your responsibility to know exactly what your main points are and to stick to those points. If you only have three points, and you keep coming back to them, it's going to be hard for the reporter to write about anything else.
Rather than anticipating every question you might be asked, focus your preparation on your most critical points, and practice answering any question by coming back to those points. You can only control your own words, so make sure your message is clear, concise, and easily delivered.
Pointer 2: Take the call when you're ready
It's tempting when a reporter calls to jump right into the interview. You don't want to keep her waiting, and you're afraid that if you don't take the call, you'll miss your "big chance."
Resist the temptation and take a few minutes to get ready. Ask the reporter what the topic is and when her deadline is. Let the reporter know that you can't talk at the moment, but you will call back in a few minutes, or before the deadline. You can try asking the reporter to e-mail or fax you the interview questions, and sometimes the whole interview can be conducted by e-mail, but be prepared for the reporter to decline.
Now that you've got some time to prepare, sit down at the computer or open your file drawer and pull up your marketing documents, your bio, your website, your blog, and anything else you can think of to have the information you need at your fingertips.
Determine and clarify the main points you want to cover - no more than three. Look at your mission statement, go over your elevator pitch, and take a couple of deep breaths.
Now, when you call the journalist back, you are ready to give an interview!
Pointer 3: Don't take mistakes personally
Even with excellent preparation, you may be misquoted or find a factual error in the article. In fact, it's very likely.
When a journalist is taking notes over the phone, it's difficult to write everything down exactly as you said it. Even when interviewing in person and using a recorder, it's not easy to get everything right. And everyone has personal filters through which information is fed, meaning that the reporter's interpretation and perception of what was said may be different than yours. Again, the reporter is not out to get you. Her sole purpose is to write a good, accurate story that informs her readers.
If the factual errors are minor (your business was founded in 1997, but the article says 1998) and readers will never know the difference, then let it go. If you're slightly misquoted but you don't sound like a murderer or a racist, then let it go.
If the mistake is more damaging, like a misspelled web address or, say, the wrong person credited for an important invention, then by all means ask for a correction to be printed. The beauty of web-based media is that it can be corrected at any time, unlike print media.
If you think you can head off errors by asking to see the article before it's published, don't bother. A journalist doesn't need your permission or approval to publish the piece - it's not an advertisement that you've paid for and can control. Journalists cannot be influenced by their sources to change their stories - their job is to remain objective and credible by telling a story based on their own research and interpretation of the facts.
If you're lucky, the writer will send you your quotes or any complex data for fact-checking, and that is a wonderful courtesy. But asking to see the piece before it's published is generally considered poor etiquette and will not endear you to the reporter.
Remember, you have total control over the words that come out of your mouth. This is the one opportunity you have in an interview to get your message out there in a way that is unambiguous to the reporter and to the readers. Take the time to prepare your key points in advance and never waver from your main message, and you will always be ready for your media moment.
Copyright (c) 2007 Lisa Braithwaite. All rights reserved.