Recently, Matter Communications has facilitated a wide variety of media training seminars for all levels of expertise at our clients’ organizations – whether for a basic “What is PR?” training or a refresher session for C-Level execs on the dos and don’ts for press interviews. In leading many of these sessions, it struck me that a lot of the key takeaways can be applied to everyday life:
1. Pause before answering: I am guilty of occasionally jumping in with an answer before someone even finishes asking me a question – we all are. So when I teach trainees to pause for a few seconds before answering, it reminds me to do the same. Taking a pause in an interview will help the spokesperson digest the question and answer with confidence, rather than with the first thing that pops into his/her head. Pausing also helps slow down the pace of interview, allowing the spokesperson to regain control of his/her message.
2. Be Prepared and Listen: Throughout the media training session, I spend a lot of time talking about listening, staying focused and always prepping before an interview. These skills also apply to everyday life – it’s amazing how much you can observe if you just stop, focus and listen. When a reporter asks a question, it’s key to allow him/her to finish before delivering an answer to ensure you don’t go off message and/or address something the reporter didn’t even ask about. It’s also important to be prepared, so that you don’t give away too much (or too little) and that you have a complete answer to what you’re being asked. I’m sure folks reading this can relate to those moments when we might provide more information than needed, which can lead to an awkward situation, both professionally and personally. Similarly, not being prepared can be embarrassing and make a small issue into a much larger one…or sometimes, create a whole new set of challenges that impact your reputation and ability to set the record straight.
3. Be Accountable for your Actions: We are all human and we all make mistakes – sometimes big ones, but it’s when folks deny or lie about any wrong doings that things can start spiraling out of control. Companies are sometimes guilty of either keeping quiet during a “crisis” or trying to “pass the buck” or point fingers, but what most folks don’t realize is you’ll be more respected if you just do the right thing because ethics and accountability in public relations are non-negotiable. I like to think that ethics and accountability in real life should be non-negotiable too – sometimes it’s hard to admit when you’re wrong, but the best way to resolve an issue and move past it is to acknowledge it and show what steps are being taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again. That doesn’t mean that every time our clients are caught in an uncomfortable situation or that we personally fall short of someone’s expectations that we have to spill our guts and grovel…but a good old fashioned apology and a promise to do better can go a long way towards solving a problem or regaining someone’s trust.
Interviews, like most things in life, can start out one way and end up being totally different. Sometimes it’s for the better and you end up with a great feature story or a mention in a positive trend piece. Other times you might get nailed in a Q&A or end up part of a negative round-up…and being adequately armed with the tips above can give you an opportunity to turn the story around and come out of the situation even stronger. Just remember that these rules can apply to life beyond just press interviews. Whether you’re having conflict with a friend, colleague or loved one, or are trying to avoid making a mistake at work, the best plan of attack is just to think before you speak, choose your words carefully and make sure you mean them, and never hide behind flimsy excuses.