You’re busy running a startup. You don’t have a communications “team” of 50 people to help you prepare for conversations with the press. You personally don’t have time for an intensive 2 week course on media training. What you DO have is an interview or media opportunity in two days that you’re scared to death about.
Fear not. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
1. Know The Show
Familiarize yourself with the show or venue you’re going to be on. Do your homework. If it’s a blog, read previous articles. If it’s a TV show, watch previous episodes. If it’s a podcast, or radio show, listen to a few episodes. If it’s available, read over the list of episode titles and guests over the last few months. Try and get a sense of why the show exists and what it’s about.
2. Know The Target Audience
Figure out what kind of organization this is, and who they appeal to. It’s important to estimate who a target audience is. It’s very different speaking to a magazine aimed at parents versus one aimed at chemical engineers. Once you’ve identified their audience as best you can, try and connect that audience with elements of your brand. What about your brand or industry might these people find compelling? What challenges might there be? Knowing this ahead of time will help you give better answers and stay focused during the interview.
3. Know How Long They Need You
Ask ahead of time, how long they need you for, or how long your segment, or article will be. Are you doing a 2 minute interview? Do they need you on-set for two hours? Will they interview you for two hours and cut it down to two minutes? Highly polished weekly shows, like Sunday Morning for example, shoot hours of interviews and on-site b-roll for a final segment that might only be 10 minutes when it airs. Livestreamers may want you to sit on the air for 4 hours and chime in occasionally when the subject arises.
4. Don’t Overschedule The Day
The day you have a big interview is not the day to go to your kid’s soccer game, hold a board meeting, or start remodeling the kitchen. Sure, big company executives might be able to do that because they have several interviews a week, but you’re with a startup. Startups typically get less media interviews and each one really matters. Media interviews are important. Schedule time beforehand to do your homework and internalize the topics you’re going to cover. Get a good night’s sleep before, and be sure to eat and hydrate. Schedule reminders on your cell phone and smartwatch so you actually get to where you need to be on time. After the interview, take a little time to pause and reflect internally or with your team on what went well and what you’d like to change in the future.
5. Practice Your Quick Pitch
This is what you say when a reporter asks what your startup is or how it came about. It incorporates your elevator pitch, but it’s not word-for-word, and it includes a little about the founding. Write it down. Rehearse it. Keep it short. Keep it interesting. Test it on family members if you need to, and see if they find it engaging.
6. Keep a Notebook
If you have a tendency to freeze, keep a little notebook next to you with “at a glance” points. The show’s name. The host’s name. If you’re talking about a study, the key statistics, etc. Depending on the show, you may not be able to have it right next to you, but it’s good to make your own notes ahead of time to practice key points.
7. Know The Reporter’s Interviewing Style
Most interviewers won’t throw a “gotcha” question out of nowhere, but some do. Know which kind of reporter you are working with. Some reporters will talk with you for a long time, and the show gets edited down later for time. Some reporters need just a 20 second answer. Once you know what kind of interview you’re going to have, you can be more prepared.
8. Get or Come Up With Possible Questions Ahead of Time
Reporters working at print publications and online publications typically don’t mind giving you questions ahead of time. Some reporters for TV and radio can also send you a sample list of questions. When that’s not an option, look at previous interviews the reporter has done and imagine what questions they will likely want to know about your startup, or the industry.
9. Be Industry Current
Sometimes interviews are booked months in advance, but then something groundbreaking happens the day of your interview that changes the industry landscape. If this happens, you may be called on to talk about it, after all, you’re the industry expert. Research your industry the day before (and the day of) going into your interview and be able to talk about specific trends if the need arises. The last thing you want to do is learn about a breaking story in your industry on the air.
10. Prep for the Hard Question If It Happens
It’s always good to be ready for an unexpected difficult question. Imagine what that could possibly be, and practice answering the question as best you can. Remember, you’re never obligated to reveal secrets about your company (in fact, don’t). But you should be able to sidestep the question like a decent human being and still carry on a good interview. You can always say something like, “That’s not something I’m able to talk about at this time, but what I can tell you is…” You could also say, “what I think is more interesting to your viewers right now is… “ but you want to be sure you’re right if you use this tactic.
The Bottom Line: A little preparation goes a long way. Pay attention to your industry and to interviews you find compelling. You’ll get better with practice and paying attention. You can do this.
Jennifer L. Jacobson is a communications strategist who helps brands advance in growing industries. Her clients have been on The View, The Today Show, in TIME Magazines’s best site of the year, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, Scientific American, USA Today, and thousands more.
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