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Master speaking techniques for media interviews

How to take control of your media interview by using bridging, flagging and cherry-picking. Startups need to master media skills in order to promote, sell and share their messages. This series discusses what you need to know—see the introductory overview as well as the full series list below.


Take control and lead your media interview

The biggest mistake people make is going into a media interview without a clear agenda. If you take the time to understand what is relevant to the audience and to plan ahead, you can meet both your goals and the interviewer’s goals with an informative and interesting piece of content.

The key to doing this is to use your preparation to lead the interview where you want it to go so you can deliver your key messages and fulfill your objectives in a smooth and natural way. If you wait for an invitation to share your good news, it may never come. It’s up to you to introduce interesting, relevant and positive information and case studies into the conversation at every opportunity.

Use the following bridging, flagging, listing and cherry-picking techniques to deliver your key messages and help take control of each opportunity.

Key speaking techniques

Bridging

Bridging is a powerful means for taking charge and controlling a media interview. If done well, bridging significantly increases the probability that your key messages will appear in the final article, video or broadcast. By using bridging techniques, a person can refocus or redirect the interview to concentrate on the most important, relevant and critical points.

Examples of bridging:

  • “While [x] is important, it is also important to remember…”
  • “The key here is…”
  • “What this all boils down to is…”
  • “And what’s most important is…
  • “In fact, remember [x] is…”

Don’t confuse bridging with avoidance. You should always answer the interviewer’s question, but don’t feel you have to limit your response to the question alone. Here’s an example:

Q: Do you think you have gone too far in collecting people’s personal data?
A: Our software has always exceeded standards for privacy and data protection. In fact, we are always looking at new ways to provide our clients with the latest innovative technologies and techniques to ensure we are ahead of the curve when it comes to security and privacy. In fact, this year, we…

The answer dealt with the question by giving a positive statement, and then bridged to the point about additional ways the company is innovating and addressing concerns. This leads the reporter away from negative follow-up questions and into positive territory. You must answer the question, but then you must also go beyond it by enhancing the answer with positive messages.

Flagging

Flagging is an effective technique that allows you to put more emphasis on certain points that support your key messages. It gets the listener to stop and pay attention to what is coming next.

A few famous examples of flagging:

  • “Now, let me be clear…” – Barack Obama
  • “Read my lips…” – George Bush

Other flagging phrases to try:

  • “This is the most important point…”
  • “Our entire focus and goal is…”
  • “The big news is…”
  • “I want the stress that…”

Listing

Organizing your response into a list is an effective technique for three reasons. First, it provides space so you can finish your thoughts—it’s unlikely that the interviewer will interrupt you and leave the audience guessing about the remaining points. Second, it ensures that you pace yourself and don’t go off-topic. Third, it flags the elements that are most important.

Aim for three points (aim for too many and you’ll lose the attention of the audience). For example:

Q: What do you think contributed to the early success of the company?
A: There were three key factors. The first is…

Cherry-picking

Often an interviewer inadvertently introduces a stream of questions. If this happens, seize the opportunity to refocus by “cherry-picking” the question that offers the best lead-in to your key messages. An example of such a question might be, “This is an exciting year for your company, with the launch into the new European marketplace, early-seed investment and new service offerings…”

Get your message across in the media interview

Go ahead, repeat yourself

It’s better to say what’s important several times than to say several unimportant things. An article or video published after a one-hour interview may contain two or three sentences of your quotes. During the interview, you probably delivered 180 sentences. The interviewer is sure to miss your important messages, unless you repeat yourself—often!

Avoid verbal placeholders

In high-pressure situations, it’s common to use placeholder words like “um” or “uh” to stall and generate a few extra seconds in order to form a response. Often a silent pause (it will feel longer to you than to the interviewer) is more effective than a stream of awkward fillers. Like an actor in a play, the more you prepare and rehearse, the less likely you’ll be to struggle to find the right words.

Rehearse

If you are going to deliver a speech to 200 people, you’ll likely spend hours preparing and reviewing your script. Professional athletes and actors rigorously train and rehearse before facing the public. Remember, a simple, seemingly trivial media interview can be read, heard or watched by millions of customers. It pays to prepare.

In a role-playing setting, determine:

  •     Are your message points coming across?
  •     Are your answers concise?
  •     Are your key messages believable or do they need more support?

Articles in this series: