We let the facts do the talking.

Don’t sweat through the questions of your next television interview

Now that we’ve learned a little about the history of Television and what that all means to PR, it’s time to move on to one of the most fear-inspiring ways to get your message out there – TV interviews.

When I first started working in PR, I couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about when it came to TV interviews. The CEO of a multi-national company meets with dozens of people for business a day and answers countless questions. Then what is the big deal about talking in front of a camera – a lifeless piece of equipment, and what do they need media training for? It’s not like they are facing Russell Crowe, dressed as a gladiator, about to square off in a duel to the death.

But that was until I faced the music, the camera in this case, for a mock interview. What I heard wasn’t Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9; in fact, what transpired was far from it. Instead I was sweating bullets and talking gibberish.

That was when I realised that the camera may just be an inanimate piece of technology, but it can either intimidate even the best of speakers or make superstars out of those who know how to befriend it, depending on who is calling the shots i.e., asking questions at the other end and if the person facing the camera measures up. So after my first disastrous experience, I made sure I attended as many media training sessions as possible, to become the speaker I know I could become, because each time I learned something new and interesting.

Here are some great examples I’ve come across along the way.

When your crisis management is more disastrous than the catastrophe
A crisis has hit your company and all attention is on you. This is not the time to skimp on your media representative, because what they say can either lift you up in the eyes of the public or send you into a spiralling black hole.

All of us remember the British Petroleum oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, a classic example that demonstrates how badly conducted interviews, especially on TV, can negatively impact your company’s reputation. BP’s multi-million-dollar, award-winning, re-branding campaign to position itself as being ‘green’ drowned in a sea of leaking oil and in the gross mismanagement of basic crisis communication. As the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, appeared repeatedly in the media to address the issue, he enraged Americans and the world when he played down the effects of the oil spill and said that BP was not responsible for the accident. His answers in a flat, impassive tone is example of how a spokesperson, who would’ve been carefully, coached by legal and media teams, failed to step up in a crisis situation.

Besides not assigning the right spokesperson (a good communicator) to be its single source of information, BP reportedly failed to adhere to some of the basic tenets of public relations by attempting to block the free flow of information and obstructing the media’s coverage. Maybe what he needed was training on ‘What Not to Say When Your Company Is Ruining the World’.

Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more.
Do you really think stand-up comedians just go out there, grab a mike and then spew out funny? I don’t think so. All that perfect comedic timing, the great jokes and the right gestures have taken hours and days of practice in order to sound spontaneous and hysterical.

If you have agreed to go for an interview, where you will be subject to scrutiny by thousands or maybe even millions, preparation is vital.

You don’t want to be in a situation where you are cornered by a tough interviewer on live television like a senator from Texas who failed to realise the importance of preparing before an interview (and boy, is it brutal). He unsuccessfully tries the bridging technique, and ultimately reveals a lack of knowledge about the candidate (Barak Obama) he had publicly endorsed. (I highly recommend you see this, because you definitely don’t want that to be you)

As the spokesperson, it is crucial that you are prepared to answer any question put forward and are able to respond convincingly. For the poor senator, gathering information about the reporter would have helped him anticipate his ‘hardball’ approach.

Finally, if you are sitting in for an interview, make sure you at least say something.

When the wrong guy gets it right
Where a senator and a CEO clearly lacked the knowledge and skills for tackling an interview (and in the process paid heavily for it), this is an example where the wrong guy handles the situation better than some of the professionals would.

Mistaken for the spokesperson, this business graduate from the Congo was at BBC for an interview when he was unexpectedly plopped on the hot seat. What’s the lesson? He actually handles himself pretty well for the situation, and manages to complete the interview and give logical input on the topic. That comes from using your head, conquering the unexpected with rational thinking and being confident. Deal with what life has dealt you and do it to the best of your ability.

Even if you are not the spokesperson it is worth your while, and beneficial for the company, that you, as a representative, are fully aware of your company’s goals and messages. You never know when you might be questioned.

As for Guy Goma, following that little mix-up he appeared on several TV shows including BBC, CNN, and even has a movie being developed that’s based on his life.

Now leaving you with some general tips, make sure you avoid these top three media mistakes, and that’ll help you to gravitate towards better interviews.

Talk non-stop or about something irrelevant to what’s being asked. It’s nearly impossible for a journalist to get a sound bite and the random rambling will just wind up on the cutting room floor.
– Worst is when spokespeople give one-word answers. For example, if the reporter asks you, ‘What’s your favourite colour’? A lot of people will just say – ‘blue’. That’s fine, but the best answer from someone who has been media-trained is a complete thought that can stand on its own. So the answer should be, ‘My favourite colour is blue’.
– And finally when you don’t listen to the question and jump the gun or don’t understand what’s being asked. If you are not sure, ask for a clarification and then proceed to answer the question.

Next time you get the opportunity make sure you are prepared. That will decide who you become: the next ‘Hayward’ or the next ‘Guy Goma’, either landing yourself jobless or on a primetime TV show. The decision is yours.

Any interesting examples where TV interviews have gone extremely wrong or really right?