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Preparing for a media interview

Got a media interview? Know what to wear, where to look, what to avoid and how to approach each medium. 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 list below of upcoming articles.


Preparation is key when it comes to delivering a meaningful media interview—you wouldn’t deliver a big speech without proper research and practice. Remember, one seemingly small and insignificant media interview could reach thousands of potential customers, investors or stakeholders.

Have you gone through all the steps?

Media interviews: General tips

Avoid going off topic in your media interview

One of the most common mistakes an interviewee makes is going off topic and missing the opportunity to deliver a meaningful message or achieve any communication goals.

One way to tackle the problem is to limit your media interview to 40 minutes, but preferably 20 minutes. Why? The longer you speak, the more likely you are to get comfortable, go off topic and ramble—missing your opportunity to get your key messages across. Politely tell the interviewer that you will have a hard stop at a certain time, but that you’d be happy to address any additional questions and reschedule a follow-up call. Set a timer.

Project energy and enthusiasm

Communicating passion and energy is critical in order to engage an audience. You need to inject more energy than you think for it to come across on camera. So use your voice to express nuance and pay attention to your body language.

While body language is obviously important for a video or broadcast, in-person radio or print interviewers can still comment on what they see and hear (also, in many cases, media interviews are taped for social media and online channels). Even obvious vocal incongruities during a telephone interview are likely to get mentioned.

Using your hands to punctuate important points and project energy is a great idea, but practise in front of a mirror or colleague to see whether your gestures are distracting.

Radio and podcasts: Interview tips

Radio and podcasts are the fastest type of everyday journalism. With no camera equipment or time-consuming video edits, interviewers can conduct a telephone conversation in minutes. These types of media interviews are geared toward obtaining the desired sound bite.

Interview programs, panel discussions, open-line shows and studio debates are forums found more often on radio than on television. These forums—often running a half-hour or longer—are typically live and can involve unanticipated questions from callers or hostility from hosts or panel opponents. They require careful preparation.

What to know:

  • Always check to see if the media interview is in studio or by phone.
  • If it’s by phone, always use a land line and make sure you have a quiet space.
  • Arrive at the interview site early. You’ll be more comfortable for the interview.
  • Speak at your normal voice level and modulate your voice to emphasize key points. Remember, there are no visuals, so use descriptive examples to illustrate your message.
  • In a one-on-one interview, speak to the interviewer, not the microphone.
  • Never try to hold the microphone.
  • Avoid deep sighs, yawns, squeaking your chair and other noise-producing activities—the microphone captures everything.
  • Sometimes nerves can lead to a dry mouth, so always have a glass of water available.
  • Don’t respond to hostility from a caller or host. Stick to your guns and don’t get flustered. Take the moral high ground, calmly state your key points and back them up with facts.

Television and video: Interview tips

If you are going to be on video, always take the opportunity to bring in branding, such as standing in front of a logo wall, if possible.

As with any media interview, know who you are speaking to before it starts. Remember that anything said before or after the formal conversation could become part of the interview itself (an indiscreet remark about a competitor may be used by the interviewer as a question or as part of your introduction).

When the camera’s rolling

Always look at the interviewer, not the camera. The camera may be on you even though someone else is speaking, so react appropriately. For example, if you disagree with what someone else is saying, shake your head. Always sit and act as if the camera is pointed at you at all times.

If you are in a remote studio, look at the camera at all times. You’ll have very little sensory input: generally, you’ll hear the questions through an earpiece. Assume the camera is on you, smile, nod and avoid any negative facial expressions.

What to wear

Do a dry run of your outfit ahead of time. If possible, sit in front of a mirror before leaving home. Watch for issues such as gaps in your clothing, and proper sock or skirt length. Generally, you should undo your jacket, straighten your tie down the placket of your shirt and make sure your shirt isn’t gaping.

Some tips on clothing choices:

  • Avoid patterns with white: They cause the camera image to “flare.”
  • Avoid turtlenecks, which can make you look like a floating head. Choose a v-neck in a saturated colour.
  • Don’t wear loud jewellery (such as noisy earrings and bracelets), as the sound will be picked up on the microphone.
  • Wear a solid-coloured suit, with a white or light-coloured shirt.
  • Single-breasted suits work better if you’re sitting.
  • Sit on your coattails to keep the fabric around your neck and shoulders from creeping up.

Standing interviews

Keep your arms by your sides or, even better, in front of your torso. Avoid hugging your body in any way, and resist the temptation to place your hands in your pockets.

When standing, try placing one foot slightly in front of the other. Doing so prevents the dreaded side-to-side sway and also helps keep your energy aimed forward and looking engaged.

Sitting interviews

Plant your feet firmly on the floor in front of you, if you are wearing a skirt, try crossing your feet at the ankles to avoid any unintended exposure.

Sit forward on the front half of the chair. Sitting back and slouching can make you look uninterested and appear disproportionately small on screen, particularly if you are beside another person. Lean forward a bit to help increase your energy and ensure the camera’s main focus is on your face, not your body.

Taped interviews

For budget reasons, an interview is often taped with one camera, which is trained on you. There is a good chance your interviewer will be edited out, so always reiterate the question with the answer.

Example:

Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you this year?
A: The biggest challenge this year has been…

After the interview, the cameraperson will often shoot over your shoulder to record the interviewer asking a few of the same questions you have already addressed. Sometimes, they will also film the interviewer nodding their head and making other facial expressions that can then be edited into the main tape.

In a taped interview, if you would like the opportunity to re-answer a question, suggest to the interviewer (after the interview is concluded) that you could provide a more concise, clearer or different answer to a particular question. Depending on the time, budget and judgment of the interviewer and/or producer, they may start rolling the camera again for a redo.

Articles in this series: