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Give a Good Interview

You've worked hard to land that media interview--so don't blow your opportunity. Here's how to make sure you get your message across.

A well-placed quote or an on-air interview can position you as a sought-after expert in your field or even catapult your company to national prominence. It may take you months to pitch and win a prized interview-or you may be surprised one day by a call from an important journalist. And the way you handle your few minutes of fame can be crucial to your business success.

Are you up to speed on techniques for handling print, radio and even TV interviews? Here's how to prepare for and breeze through print and broadcast interviews, from defining a three-point platform and seamlessly bringing interviewers back to the points you want to cover to overcoming stage fright.

What to Say

The key to a successful interview is preparation. Since the chief motivation of most interviewers is to get information or create programming that's of special interest to their readers, viewers or listeners, it's your job to provide relevant content while at the same time weaving in your own principal PR themes.

To ensure your company's central message doesn't get lost, create a PR platform you can rely on as the basis for all interviews. This platform will be particularly useful if there is more than one person in your company who may be interviewed by the press, because it will guarantee consistent messaging.

What are the key messages you want to convey about your company, its products or services? Take a look at your advertising, brochures and Web content; and identify up to three primary themes or copy points. Then weave them into a one-paragraph platform. Don't forget, your task is to create a PR platform that conveys your central themes in a way that also meets the needs of the audience.

No matter what you're asked during an interview, it should always be possible to lead the journalist back to one of your three central points. This is called "bridging," and it's an important skill to master for keeping interviews on track. For example, suppose you own an environmental consulting business that specializes in identifying and correcting indoor-air-quality and mold problems, and a radio interviewer asks you a question about smog caused by automobiles. You would reply by providing a brief fact about the damage caused by air pollution, then bridge directly to one of the points in your platform by relating the health challenges caused by indoor pollution and the methods your company uses to prevent them.

How to Say It

For best results, rehearse and memorize the contents of your platform; or simply keep an outline handy. But never read from a canned speech. Your comments should sound spontaneous and thoughtful.

Have someone test you with mock interview questions until your delivery is smooth and conversational. If you know you have an on-camera interview coming up, it may be helpful to videotape your rehearsal. Then watch the tape for any negative behaviors-such as verbal tics or stiffness-so that you can eliminate them. By preparing your content well in advance and rehearsing your delivery, you'll also sidestep the anxiety, or stage fright, that can come from being unprepared.

Broadcast interviewers are notorious for bringing their own personal styles to their programs, so you must match their tone. For instance, you wouldn't behave the same way in an interview with Howard Stern as you would with Charlie Rose. Just don't go overboard. Stay true to who you are, focus on your central message, and keep your answers short and concise. That way, they'll survive the editing process intact, and you'll minimize the possibility of your message being garbled or lost.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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This article was originally published in the July 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Press Conference.

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