TV Interview Tips From a Former Presidential Campaign Spokeswoman
The opportunity to appear on television can catapult you and your business to the next level. But it also carries risks. Flub a crucial interview -- like Ted Kennedy’s notorious 1980 chat with Roger Mudd, in which he couldn’t explain why he wanted to be president -- and you risk becoming a punchline.
Today, I run my own marketing-strategy consultancy. But in my past life, I worked as the press secretary for former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich when he ran for Massachusetts governor and was the New Hampshire Communications Director for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign.
Here are the strategies I learned about how to make your television interview a success.
Rehearse your FAQs. This is where Kennedy, for whatever reason, fell short. There are perhaps five to ten questions you’ll get asked every time, by every reporter. Why did you start your company? Why do people need your product/service? Where do you see your company in five years? Practice these FAQs until you can answer them in your sleep, and you’ll spare yourself the vast majority of media problems.
Know the enemy. To cite another famous political example, during the 2000 campaign, then-governor George W. Bush was stumped when Boston political reporter Andy Hiller launched into a “pop quiz” of world leaders. While Hiller was known for asking questions exactly like that, Bush’s aides failed to prepare him properly.
Before you agree to an interview, research the reporter. It doesn’t take long but a simple Google search to understand what types of stories they like to pursue and their overall intent -- are they a “gotcha” journalist, a hard-news type or a soft-feature reporter -- can make for a far better experience.
Related: 7 Power Tools of Persuasion
Dress the part. Dressing for television is slightly different than preparing to give a major speech. It’s not enough simply to look nice -- you need to understand what will look good on camera.
Stay away from busy patterns -- solid colors work the best. (Ever wonder why so many politicians stick to a navy suit, blue shirt and red necktie?) Avoid black and white, which aren’t always flattering under the lights. And while some kind of a decorative accent, like a brooch, can be nice, women should limit their jewelry and avoid dangly earrings, which can draw the viewer’s eye away when you want them to be concentrating on what you’re saying.
Master the sound bite. As you’re preparing answers to your FAQs, practice timing yourself with your smartphone. You should aim for each answer to take no more than 30 seconds. (Don’t worry about being too brief: If a reporter wants to know more, you can guarantee he’ll ask a follow-up question.)
Pithiness is difficult. When we get nervous, most of us start to ramble instinctively. But if you hardwire yourself to know what 30 seconds feels like, that’s a powerful advantage, because you can stop yourself before you go off topic, say too much or feel your interviewer start to disengage.
Stay on message. In most television interviews, you’ll only have a very limited time to make your points. Reporters may well try to engage you on the sexy issues of the day like controversies in your industry or tangentially related news hooks. Instead of spending your precious media time talking about things that don’t advance your publicity goals, learn the “block and bridge” technique. You can’t just ignore their question, as that looks bad and they’ll likely get annoyed. But you can answer it very briefly and then move on to what you want to talk about. (“You raise an interesting point and I agree bitcoin regulation is on the horizon. But what I’ve found Americans really care about is X, Y, and Z.”) In other words, the goal is to “block” their line of inquiry by addressing it quickly and then “bridging” to your preferred subject (your product or service).