This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
This lesson will teach you how to conduct an effective practice session and rate your performance. Even if the reporter has a particularly bruising deadline, try to do a quick “shortcut” version of this exercise.
Record a Practice Interview
- 1. Ask colleagues, friends, or family members to interview you. Give them your Q&A document so that they can ask you the questions you developed, but encourage them to ask any relevant follow-up questions they can think of. That will force you to practice answering unanticipated questions by transitioning back to your messages.
- Supplement your Q&A document with a few open-ended questions (say, “Can you tell me about your company?”) and a few of the trap questions you learned earlier in the book.
- 2. Get your equipment ready. If you’re preparing for a television interview, record your practice run with a video camera, if possible. For radio or print interviews, you may use an audio recorder (most smartphones have a built-in audio recording device).
- 3. Adjust to the format of your upcoming interview. If you’re preparing for a standing television “bites” interview, for example, stand up and maintain eye contact with your friend or family member, not the camera. (Your interviewer should stand just to the side of the camera.)
- 4. When the interview begins, try not to break character. If you make a mistake, keep going. It’s important to learn how to recover from your mistakes, so stay in the moment and do your best to get back to surer ground.
Rate Your Performance
- 1. Watch or listen to the tape. Pause the playback after every answer.
- 2. Begin your self-critique by commenting on the things you did well—positive feedback is important—and then move on to the things you could have done better. Make sure you comment on both the quality of your message and the manner in which you delivered it.
- 3. After you analyze an answer, ask your colleagues, friends, and/or family members for their feedback. Proceed through the entire interview, one answer at a time, using this formula.
- 4. Be kind to yourself. Most people are much more critical of themselves than they should be. In media training workshops, people most frequently comment on their age, their looks, or their voice—but the audience is less likely to be distracted by such matters. There’s a reason many Academy Award—winning actors refuse to watch their own films—they are painfully self-critical and see only the flaws in their performances. The reality is that their performances were brilliant—and similarly, your performance was likely better than you think.
We all have words and phrases that hit our ears like chalk on a chalk board (or Kardashians on a television screen). Here are 11 of the words and phrases that make me want to let out a small yelp every time I hear them.
1. Touch points: This piece of PR jargon makes me cringe more than any other. “Touch points” make me think of something dirty, sleazy, or outright illegal. Please don’t touch me on my touch points. Just reach me through numerous channels.
2. Retarded: According to Google’s word usage chart (below), the word “retarded” has been going out of favor since the late 1970s. But as you can see, the word is still used more than it should be. This is especially grating in its common “you’re so retarded” usage, often referring to a friend who did something dumb. How about just using “you’re so dumb” instead? Heck, even “dumb shit” would be preferable.
3. “Sorry if you were offended”: This phrase is most commonly used by people who did something offensive. But instead of fully accepting the blame, they shirk it by shifting some of it onto you for having the audacity to take offense at their offensiveness. If you mess up, it’s far better to say “We did something offensive, and we apologize.”
4. Whatever: This word is often used to dismiss a person or an idea. “She’s the one who wanted to do this stupid PR campaign in the first place. What-ever.” But it’s no longer the dismissive quality of the word that irks me; rather, it’s the complete lack of originality. Come on, people, dismissing a dumb idea is supposed to be fun, so stop relying on such a hackneyed term to do it.
5. You guys: This term is fine if you’re addressing a group of all boys or men. But if girls or women are present, it’s often considered rude. A waiter in a southern restaurant, for example, should expect a lower tip if he addresses his mixed-gender table as “you guys.”
6. Like: Can you, like, think of a word that, like, makes you, like, want to tear out your hair and stab your eardrums more? Like, whatever. And sorry if you are offended, you guys.
7. “I’m starving.” Unlikely. You’re probably just hungry. If you were starving, you would look like the poor soul in the picture below. Next time you’re tempted to say that you’re “starving,” remember her and remind yourself to say only that you’re feeling a bit peckish and would like something to eat.
8. “I can’t.” Sometimes this phrase is true. But many times, frontline personnel say “I can’t” when what they really mean is “I won’t.” “Sorry, we can’t let you return this defective product, since we only accept returns in the first 30 days and today is day 31.” “Sorry, we can’t let you substitute the cheddar cheese for the Muenster.”
9. Mucus: True story: When interviewing a young woman for a job many years ago, she followed a sneeze by explaining that her cold wasn’t contagious any longer since her mucus had changed back to its normal color and consistency. She didn’t get the job. (An exception for using this term is granted to the medical profession.)
10. Ninja: I have no problems with actual ninjas. Got that, ninja? Put the throwing stars down. But what the hell is a “PR Ninja” or a “Communications Ninja?” These phrases are becoming ubiquitous in people’s social media profiles lately, and they don’t make sense. According to Wikipedia, a “ninja” is defined, in part, as a mercenary. Are these PR professionals boasting about their willingness to take on any client, regardless of the ethics involved?
11. Spin: Yes, there’s such a thing as spin. But the term has been carelessly applied to many more PR campaigns than it should be, including ones that are completely aboveboard. There’s a big difference between strategic communications and “spin.”
What words make you cringe? Please enter your entries to the language hall of shame in the comments section below.
I have just discovered an unbelievable gem in the real estate market. Prices these days are low and have never been lower, and it’s a great time to buy a new home. My husband told me about the Jupiter real estate that he found out in the Gold Coast, and he’s excited about buying a house there. We have already contacted a mortgage broker and we are on the road to buying the home of our dreams.
Life has been great since we purchased our new home. We have our ups and downs like a normal family but most of all we stick together and who can forget the gorgeous view of the beach from our waterfront property. We were looking for some Jupiter properties a few years ago and came across a beautiful summer home at a reduced price range because of an altercation near the home. It doesn’t bother us and we haven’t noticed any unusual activity on the property. We really love our new home and the great dinner we have together. We would like to have you over for dinner.
We often wonder how it would be best to prepare our child for the SAT or ACT exams. When talking about preparing for exams, knowledge is power, and this kind of power is best gained through hard work and studying. My wife showed me the benefits of an Online SAT course and our child is now excelling in his tests. Getting the right tutor for an SAT test is the best thing we’ve had so far in the education of our son. We are happy with the services provided.
For a more customized course, there are many options available but preparation is key. The convenience of online SAT prep in preparing for tests and finding the right tutor for your child cannot be underestimated. My wife has always lectured my son but with the hassle of modern life it has become increasingly difficult. The programs offered are state of the art and have great teachers.
What if there was an almost foolproof way to ensure that reporters ask you the exact question you want them to ask?
There is. Often times, you can “tee up” the next question a reporter will ask you simply by placing it right in front of them.
As an example, imagine that the question you’re asked is slightly off topic. You answer the question, followed by this phrase: “But that’s not even the most fascinating thing we’ve seen.” Any reporter worth his or her paycheck will immediately ask: “Oh? What is?”
Think of this technique as analogous to golf, where players “tee up” their next shot by placing the ball carefully onto a small stand (the “tee”) before striking it.
Other phrases that might help you tee up the next question include:
- “But that’s not even the most interesting discovery we’ve made.”
- “And I heard something more surprising than that along the way.”
- “That’s only the second most frequently asked question we hear from visitors.”
- “There’s an even greater risk to tourists that most people aren’t aware of.”
- “What most people don’t realize is that there’s a more effective way to treat this ailment.”
Now, go back to those five phrases and play the role of a journalist. What would the follow-up questions be? The answer is pretty obvious, right? Each of those phrases should elicit an obvious follow-up question.
When should you use these phrases? You can use them at any time, but I find them of particular use during a live radio or television interview. Let’s say you’ve been booked for a five-minute radio segment. You have limited time in which to make your key points. The host’s first few questions are a bit off topic, so you want to gently and subtly steer her back to the more important parts of the story. These “tee up” phrases help you do that—and allow the host to look good by asking you the “smart” question.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering why you shouldn’t simply use those phrases to transition to your message instead of depending on the reporter to ask the follow-up question (e.g. “But that’s not even the most interesting discovery we’ve made. The most interesting discovery was when we found…”).
That approach is certainly sound and is usually preferable. But let’s say you feel like your answer has already gone on too long and you need to hand the ball back to the reporter. This is a perfect way to accomplish that — the host will be able to jump back in to ask the next question, but will probably ask you the one you want.
As usual, a little goes a long way here. Using this technique once or twice in an interview is probably sufficient. But it’s worth adding this technique to your media arsenal and deploying it when the reporter is just a little off in the questioning and you want to gently nudge them back to a relevant topic.
Attend our small-group media training workshop in Washington, D.C. on February 3, 2014! View details here.
We’re pleased to announce our 2014 group training schedule. Each small group workshop is restricted to just 12 trainees to ensure that each attendee receives personalized attention. Our workshops often sell out quickly, so claim your spot early!
Two-Day Media and Presentation Training
New York City
April 8-9, 2014
Two-Day Media and Crisis Training
New York City
August 26-27, 2014
Presentation Skills Training
New York City
October 7, 2014
Media Training 101
October 28, 2014
All of these sessions are appropriate as a refresher course and for people who have never been trained before. If you know a friend, colleague, or client who might benefit from one of these sessions, would you please share the link with them? Thank you.
What Our Clients Say
Many sports coaches hate it when their players “talk smack” about a team they’re about to play.
Those incendiary comments often serve as motivation for their opponents, who relish the chance to defeat the team that insulted them. Some opposing coaches even post the quote in the locker room to help rally their players.
So it caught my eye yesterday when one of my tweeps, @adam_myrick, tweeted this out:
The Associated Press story he links to is about Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer, who got into trouble with his coach this week for trash talking his opponents. As the AP reports:
“Coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that Spencer wouldn’t speak with the media for ‘a long, long time’ after saying a day earlier that Ohio State would ‘wipe the field’ with Alabama and whoever is No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
‘I guess I’m a little biased, but I think we’d, uh, we’d wipe the field with both of them,’ Spencer said, chuckling.”
To the AP’s credit, they reported the full context of Spencer’s comments:
“It was a statement that Spencer…concluded with a laugh. It was clear he was half-joking. But sarcasm, humor and nuance seldom can be sensed between the lines of cold, hard print or on a monitor or screen.”
Many news organizations wouldn’t have done Spencer the favor of writing that he had been half-joking. They would have just included his comments verbatim without mentioning the humorous context in which he made them.
And that’s the problem with humor. Without the context, comments intended as humorous, silly, or ironic can be portrayed literally—and often are.
You might wonder whether you can afford to make more humorous comments during a live radio or television interview, since the audience will see your full exchange and be able to discern your meaning in its proper context. That’s safer, yes, but it’s still not entirely safe. That’s because your comments may later be transcribed by the wires, blogs, and newspapers—and the “proper” context may not be reflected in their stories about your interview.
With all of that, you may reasonably conclude that I’m advising you never to be humorous during a media interview. But that’s not quite it. It’s not that you can’t be humorous at all, but rather that your humor must reflect your actual, literal meaning.
If your humor, when transcribed, says exactly what you mean and can’t be interpreted in a harmful manner, you’re probably on safe ground.
Many years ago, a job applicant lied to me during his interview.
He wasn’t straight with me when I asked why he had left his previous job. When I called his previous employer after our interview, I learned that the story of his dismissal was far more complicated than he had indicated.
My instinct was clear: don’t hire this guy. As one of my favorite expressions says, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”
But since I had really enjoyed our first conversation, I called him in for a second interview. I wanted to give him an opportunity to explain why he hadn’t been more forthcoming. When confronted with what I had learned, he apologized profusely and explained that his bruised ego had temporarily gotten the better of him. His humility affected me—and despite feeling misled and having a nagging feeling that I should cut bait, I hired him anyway.
It was a mistake. I fired him two months later.
Suggesting that you trust your instinct doesn’t mean that you should ignore facts and empirical evidence. In the case above, my instinct matched the evidence before me—I just opted to ignore it.
I’m fortunate to have learned that lesson before a former NBC News journalist approached me about becoming a media trainer a few years ago. I wasn’t quite ready to add another trainer, but I really liked her and my instinct told me to pay attention. She was sharp, persistent (in the best way possible) and committed. I hired her. She’s now become my firm’s vice president, and our clients love her.
A growing body of social science demonstrates that instinct is often right—and that opinions formed within seconds can be accurate. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes:
“The psychologist Nalini Ambady once gave [college] students three ten-second videotapes of a teacher—with the sound turned off—and found they had no difficulty at all coming up with a rating of the teacher’s effectiveness. Then Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds, and the ratings were the same. They were remarkably consistent even when she showed students just two seconds of videotape. Then Ambady compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors after a full semester of classes, and she found they were also essentially the same.”
Just because you have an instinct doesn’t mean you should follow it blindly. When you have a strong instinct, my suggestion is that you examine it carefully. Ask yourself whether your instinct could be due to unconscious biases. When hiring a job applicant, for example, ask yourself if your positive instinct exists because you liked the person, not because the person was actually qualified for the job.
But whatever you do, don’t ignore your instinct. Question it, examine it, and deconstruct it. Maybe even act on it. But if you ignore it, you’ll probably come to regret it.
This article is part of an occasional series about what I’ve learned from running a business. You can read other articles in this series here.