Press interviews: How to not sound like a dummy

Press interviews are great – as long as you don’t say something stupid. The more prepared you are for an interview and the better you understand the interview process, the less likely you are to say something stupid. That’s where this article comes in. 

The first thing to consider when a reporter asks you for an interview is whether you’re really an expert on the topic. Sometimes a reporter will call just because he thinks you might have something to say about a particular topic. There’s no shame in telling the reporter that this particular topic is outside of your wheelhouse if that’s the case. Like the old saying goes, it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re ignorant than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. That said, make sure you invite the reporter to call you back about other topics that may better fit your expertise.

So you’ve agreed to an interview. Now what?

Now you prepare. But how do you do that? The one thing you don’t want to do is waste a lot of time memorizing facts and figures. If a reporter is only looking for facts and figures, she’ll turn to Google, not you. What a reporter is looking for is a point of view. What do you, as an expert, think about those facts and figures? 

Unless you already have several interviews under your belt, you should take the time to talk to others in your organization, especially the person or persons responsible for your PR. Decide what your overall message is for the given topic, as well as what talking points you want to cover. Brainstorm questions you think the reporter will ask, but …

An interview is one time you should definitely expect the unexpected. The unexpected question, that is. No matter how well you prepare, you’re going to get a question you didn’t anticipate. In fact, when I was a reporter, that’s when I knew I was doing a good job – when the interviewee paused, said, “Gee, that’s a good question,” and then paused again to think of the answer.

The most important thing to remember during an interview is to stay relaxed. An interview is really just a conversation between someone who knows something (you) and someone who wants to know what you know (the reporter). Treat it as such and you should do fine.

 Of course, there are some reporters out there who like stirring the pot. They’re the exception, I promise you, but they seem intent on making you break the golden rule of don’t say something stupid. And when I say something stupid, I don’t necessarily mean something nonsensical. I mean something you’ll regret having said later.

These jackwagons will try to trick you any number of ways. However, based on my own experience, the one you need to be most watchful of is the question about your competition. Briefly stated, don’t ever talk about your competitors to a reporter. I know it’s tempting. After all, your company is so much better than theirs. But don’t do it. In fact, don’t even mention them by name in any context. That way, your meaning can’t be misconstrued.

Along these same lines, be careful of the reporter that comes across too chummy. Maybe he really is that friendly, or maybe he’s trying to get you to put your guard down and offer up that stupid comment. Better safe than sorry.

Finally, don’t ever ask the reporter if you can see a copy of the article before it goes to print. The answer will be no 100 percent of the time and you’ll end up looking like a rank amateur.

John San Filippo

John San Filippo

John is the co-founder of OmniChannel Communications, Inc., a company that specializes in B2B marketing to community financial institutions. He started out in the savings and loan industry, but wisely ... Web: Details