10 Tips for a Successful Interview

When preparing for an interview, it’s important to remember that this isn’t just a normal conversation. Here are ten key tips.

  1. Relax. A media interview won’t be a trying experience if you relax, take your time, and try to give the reporter accurate information that provides the facts they need to tell the story.
  2. BUT… always remember the nature of the relationship. No matter how friendly an interview gets, never forget that the reporter is not your friend. He or she is a person with a job to do. A reporter wants to get the story “first,” burnish their reputation, attract “eyeballs,” win the Pulitzer—and, of course, give the audience compelling, accurate and timely information on the subject.
  3. Every interview has a theme. This is especially true where a reporter is looking more deeply at a trend or issue, or for “color commentary” on the latest news or event. Have your messaging ready before the interview. Keep your theme in mind at all times and – to the extent possible – try to bring each of your answers back to this central theme.
  4. If you don’t have complete information on a question, say so. Don’t try to speculate, guess, or make statements based on incomplete information. Instead say “I’m sorry, I don’t have that information for you, but we can probably find out…” or something similar. Reporters understand you don’t know everything and respect that. You can always follow up and get them what they need.
  5. Assume you are always “On the record.” Never say anything you wouldn’t want to appear in the story unless there is a prior agreement. From the time you meet the reporter until you say goodbye, assume everything you say is for attribution. “Off-the-record,” non-attributable comments and other specialized forms of media communication should only be used with careful planning and consideration.
  6. If caught off guard, take some time to compose yourself. If a reporter asks a question “out of the blue,” take some time to think about the question and how you should respond. Remember that you don’t have to answer immediately. Reporters will allow you to do this.
  7. You don’t necessarily have to answer the question asked. Don’t be coy, but remember that you can respond to a question without answering it. There’s a difference. More than this, you can even use your answer to move the interview back to your central theme. Example: “Look, that question involves some confidential information that I don’t feel comfortable divulging, but I will say this in general…”
  8. If asked the same question several times, don’t be afraid to give the same answer. Reporters will sometimes ask the same question several times, sometimes in different ways, to see if you’ll waver. Don’t give in. Especially when handling a sensitive question, give the same answer over and over… even if it feels a little silly. Eventually the reporter will give up.
  9. Don’t fear “dead air.” If you feel you’ve answered the question, stop and wait for the next one. Don’t feel you have to fill the “dead air” with more information. Very often reporters remain silent after you’ve stopped speaking, to see if you add anything else “off-the-cuff.” Resist the urge, even if it feels awkward to sit in silence. The reporter will move on to the next question.
  10. Never say “No comment.” Nothing raises a reporter’s antenna quicker than a terse “No comment” in response to a question. If the question asks for confidential information, say: “I’m sorry, that information is confidential at this point so I really don’t feel it’s appropriate to discuss it.” Again, a reporter will understand that there are matters that you can’t divulge.