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The News Chair

How To Make Your Point In A TV Interview


Image right: Coles’ client BBB CEO Tim Maniscalo is interviewed by INSIDE INDIANA BUSINESS host, Gerry Dick.

Your company has recently been selected to provide services for a prominent pharmaceutical company and a local television business has contacted you for a brief interview. Resist the temptation to think that because your segment will be short, it will be practically devoid of content and therefore you won’t need much preparation.

Some of the most successful communications in history were memorable because they were concise and well planned. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln took only two minutes to deliver the Gettysburg Address, what is considered as one of the greatest, most profound speeches in this country’s history.

Also resist the idea that the TV reporter will wield all control over the interview and that you will be only a passive participant. Interviewers are happiest when you take an active role – it just makes their job easier. If you properly prepare for your interview, your company will reap lasting benefits from your memorable message. The “third-party credibility” (substantiation that is subconsciously given to information presented on the news) that you receive in a successful interview cannot be equaled.

Some of the following guidelines will help you take full benefit of this opportunity to make your point:

First, prepare.

• You must shine most brightly when discussing the topics conducive to your “pitch” (the topic, event, or issue you wish to promote). Therefore, do your homework on every area of your topic.

• Anticipate likely questions. A few days before your interview, have a colleague present the questions to you in different forms so that you can practice the answers.

• Do keep it short. Especially for news programs, you need to speak in “20-second sound bites.” Again, it takes practice to deliver a message this efficiently. Your ideas, arguments and reasons should be compressed into quick phrases that instantly transmit ideas.

• Know that audiences that are tuning in and out throughout the whole program. Therefore, prepare to interest the viewing audience up-front, then reiterate your central message later in the interview.

Techniques for taking some control.

It’s up to you to strike a balance between where you want the interview to go and where the interviewer wants to take the show. Since controlling an interview is a matter of emphasizing areas of conversation, it’s a good idea to develop and practice some conversational transitions that make graceful changes possible.

• Build on a previous comment.  The “as you mentioned” transition works because it unifies your thought with something the host said earlier.

• Gracefully pivot.  If the interview isn’t going in the direction you had hoped, you can initiate a new topic. There’s no need to wait for an invitation.

• Bring a sparkle to your interview by planning to use humor, an anecdote, example or fact that is memorable. For example, if your interview topic is your     company’s upcoming annual event to raise money for its charity, briefly tell a humorous story from last year’s event. This technique helps to personalize your message and build rapport with your audience.

Tricks for sticky situations.

• The dreaded question.  Suppose that the question you most dread is asked, despite your masterful efforts to steer clear the conversation elsewhere. Before you answer, remember that the media exacts a severe penalty upon those who side-step the truth. The way to maintain control in this situation is to anticipate it, and prepare for it.

1. Briefly and simply state the case with any corrections in a calm manner.

2. Describe the result or resolution.

3. Explain any actions that will be taken in the future.

4. Gently change the subject to a related but non-controversial topic.

If your host becomes argumentative (a very unlikely prospect, but if…), be calm. It takes two to argue, and if you won’t “bite,” the host will have to move on. When asked a question you can’t answer, simply say, “That is a good question, and I don’t know the answer, but I’ll be happy to find out. Perhaps you could let the audience know on the next program.” Be direct, never evasive. Honesty builds credibility and your candor will make you likeable. Suppose the host goes off your subject. In this case, simply answer the question, then use a transition such as “Many people ask me…” as a bridge to your next point.

Common pitfalls.

• Remember, the home viewer is your true audience.

• Earn the interest of the audience before you give out the date of your event (or your address, phone number, business location, etc.) Not until the audience is saying to themselves, “This subject is interesting,” will they pay attention to information about how to get in touch with you.

• Be yourself at your most scintillating, but unless you’re a professional actor, don’t try to come across as someone you’re not. Audiences detect phoniness.

• Give substantive answers, but stay alert to signals from your host and the floor director that you are talking too long.

• No matter what occurs in the interview – whether the host has thrown you a question you wished to avoid, or has made a comment you consider disagreeable – be polite. Nothing looks worse on television than a temper.

You’ll never be – and shouldn’t be – in absolute control of your interview. It’s should truly be a partnership. Through preparation, a positive approach, and a determination to take charge without being pushy, you can be comfortable and productive in your new role as interviewee.


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