The Armchair Quarterback and the Hot Seat

By Matter

One of the things we do in PR is coach our clients on how to give the best possible interview to the media. When we do a coaching session, this is our formula:

Effective communications begins with understanding your audience. Our first fifteen minutes are all about painting a “day in the life” scenario, describing the world of a reporter/blogger/broadcast journalist/analyst. We’re lucky to have a good number of former reporters on staff, and really solid relationships with so many of our friends in the influencer realm – we have great insights to share that make it easier for our clients to understand pressures and goals of those they are speaking with.

Cover common sense do’s and don’ts. These shouldn’t surprise you, they include such pearls as: Don’t lie. Don’t guess. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know; if you don’t know an answer, just say so and offer to get back to the interviewer with details. Lead the discussion to your key messages whenever possible. Use quantifiable, real examples when you’re describing how great your product is (Bank XY used our product to virtualize their data center, cutting heating and cooling costs by 60% annually). Engage the reporter, seek their feedback as the interview progresses, and ask if you answered the question she just asked.  This isn’t a magical formula, but it’s helpful to remind anyone about.

Practice. Then we get to work, individually, with each executive to be coached. Normally, we try to identify in advance what each person needs to work on most to optimize their ability to communicate effectively. For example, one executive may need to curb a distracting verbal tick (um, uh) and another may need to find a way to sound less defensive when faced with a challenging question.

Feedback. We tape or video each interview, depending on the kind of media the executive will be interviewing with most. If the majority will be via phone, we tape so that he or she will hear nearly what the journalist will in an interview. If it will be in person or live television, we use video feedback. This part is critical. We are direct and honest about the best presentation of information, and provide ideas to make it better.

Take-aways. Following the session, we use what we’ve learned in preparation for each interview, and remind the spokesperson about their key focal points for delivery and content before each interview.

Integration of flawless delivery and solid content. Delivery is key. Content is king.  Having them both work well together is the path to the ideal interview, in which you tell your story well, and the journalist gets everything they need.

I do a media interview now and then as a spokesperson for Matter. And each time I do, I gain a new respect for our clients and their ability to juggle their jobs (as Directors of Product Marketing, or VPs of Engineering, or CEOs) and to give great interviews. It’s easy to sit and give advice about how to do an interview, but actually being in the hot seat is the best way to understand why, sometimes, people make mistakes when interviewing. Can you guess what my closer is going to be? I love doing interviews because it helps me (see point number 1!) understand my audience, and communicate more effectively with clients about actually conducting an interview. Let’s be honest, there is really nothing like experience to remind you that armchair quarterbacking is a lot easier than sweating it out on the hot seat.