TMT’s 10 Rules of Interviewing©

By Eric M. Seidel, CEO 
The Media Trainers®, LLC 

Media training you receive should be comprehensive, customized and teach you strong techniques. Perhaps ironically, many reporters appreciate someone who is prepared. It helps them do their jobs easier and quicker. 

I base my training on the following rules. They’ve been well received and, gratefully, most of my clients have adopted these rules and the continued use of the exclusive templates they receive at the close of a training day. 

  Rule #1—Know what’s at stake 
What’s in it for you? 
In other words, make sure you have a reason for doing the interview. For instance, it’s your chance to establish an agenda on an issue. Or, it could offer you a competitive advantage. Perhaps you need to clear up misperceptions or erroneous information. It could be helpful to increasing your stock value. There are many possible reasons; just make sure you have one or more predetermined for yourself. It will help keep you on message. 

  Rule #2—You can define the terms 
Answer from your perspective. 
Spin or evasion are counter-productive to transmitting messages. Politicians are notorious for it and you’ve probably found yourself getting frustrated with spin and evasion when you see or hear it. You can answer questions responsively, even when you don’t like them. It’s a matter of listening carefully and then answering from your perspective instead of getting impaled on an opposing agenda. 

  Rule #3—You are the expert 
You own the information.
If a reporter had all he/she needed, they wouldn’t spend time talking to you. But, no matter how well briefed they are on your company or industry, you undoubtedly have a greater depth of expertise. Let it out, and let it comfort you, help you feel more confident and prepared. 

  Rule #4—An interview is not a conversation
It’s a message delivery environment. 
This is the rule that is usually the most difficult for my clients to adapt to. Interviews have all the attributes of conversations, but conversations often lead to debates, corrective responses, sometimes even to arguments. None of that is helpful to you. If you feel like you’re in a conversation, you might just end up saying something in a way that you regret. 

  Rule #5—Understand the interview environment 
Prevent unexpected distractions. 
Make sure you know exactly how the interview is going to be conducted so that you don’t get distracted by technology. Is it a phone interview? Or, on the other extreme, you relating just to a camera while the interview is being conducted from a studio somewhere in the distance? You need to know in advance, especially since it may require a dress rehearsal that imitates the upcoming interview environment. 

  Rule #6—Have a positive attitude 
Let body language validate your words. 
If your non-verbals are not validating your verbals, guess what. Non-verbals win. Overwhelmingly. Body language is a huge factor. Even on a phone interview, tone of voice, a sense of enthusiasm, an indication of dread or fear, a lack of sincerity, perhaps a monotone…whatever it is that’s being heard with your words will either help “sell” or sabotage your words. In-person, using natural animation, just as might in general conversation, is encouraged. Be yourself. 

  Rule #7—Answers are more important than Questions 
Deliver positive, stand-alone statements. 
Their job is to ask questions. Your job is to deliver answers (messages). If you’re in a conversation mode, you’re likely going to respond to negative questions negatively. That puts you in a weakened position. The most negative questions can, and should, be answered with a positive response that can stand on its own and hopefully be used as a quote or sound bite. 

  Rule #8—Think audiences, first 
Define targets, then plan messages. 
You’ve got to know who you’re talking to before you determine what you want to say and how you need to say it. The reporter usually is not a target audience; only your conduit to those audiences. So, depending on the topic, and the media outlet doing the interview, narrow down their audiences to the ones most important to you. Target audiences can be one or more people who have a common interest with you and can help you achieve your (business) goals. 

  Rule #9—Answer with a conclusion, or point 
Reporters listen for sound bites. 
This is a tough one for engineers. They usually want to tell you all the details first. But, it’s not limited to engineers. Frankly, most of us do the same thing. But reporters have a finite amount of space (for print, or online), or time (for broadcast) and they need your help in packaging a story. So when you answer a question, go straight to the main point. Then, as necessary, support it with detail that they can use to support the quote they select. Usually, they’ll paraphrase that detail in order to meet their space and/or time limitations. 

  Rule #10—Determine your Interview Objective 
Make a positive lasting impression. 
This is the ultimate bottom line; it’s the sum of all your messages. And, it, too must be pre-determined. It is the overriding impression that you need to leave with target audiences. After they’ve heard, seen or read the story that includes you, what’s the overall feeling you want them to have? Hopefully, it’s usually positive and persuasive.

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