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Top 5 mistakes to avoid in TV interviews

Posted on Sat, Sep 28, 2019 3:48 PM by Julie Edgar

Regardless of whether you are invited to appear on a TV programme because you have an interesting story to tell or because you have a more contentious accusation to answer to, being on TV can be an excellent, free opportunity to reach a huge audience, let them know what you do and why it is important.  Short of digging deep into your marketing budget and paying for advertising time, it can often be the best way to talk to customers and potential clients.  
 
But many interviewees make the same common mistakes that can easily be avoided by being alert and preparing well in advance.
 
1.     They don’t prepare for a conversation – there’s surely a broadcast cupboard full of clips of politicians’ interviews where an MP famously “doesn’t answer the question” and just repeats the same one-line answer over and over again. Perhaps there are political reasons for not saying anything further, but it frustrates the interviewer and the audience and always suggests that they are either hiding something or don’t know the answer.  Neither creates a good impression.
 
Business people are just as likely to run into this scenario, particularly when being asked to explain or justify an action.  A nervous MD sticking rigidly to one or two, obviously pre-prepared, answers creates an awkward interview centred around the same question.  
 
For example:
Interviewer: “So, Mrs Jones has been sold a house that doesn’t have any water supply, but you are refusing to sort this out?”  
MD: “Well, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the sale agreement, this is something she needs to take up with the water supply company. It isn’t in our purview.”  
 
It may be accurate, but it doesn’t make the audience think well of your company.
 
Instead, spokespeople should prepare to talk about their topic, not just answer a few obvious questions. That takes preparation and practice.  If they can speak engagingly about a subject - using examples or anecdotes to illustrate points, referring to ongoing work, different points of view, new research, training, investment and perhaps the feelings of those involved - then the interview can flow and capture the interest of the viewers, regardless of the questions asked. It’s a way to put issues into context, address them and move the conversation on – even a little- to a more positive footing. 
 
Improved version:
 
Interviewer: “So, Mrs Jones has been sold a house that doesn’t have any water supply, but you are refusing to sort this out?”  
MD: “This is an awful situation for Mrs Jones and her family and I can only imagine how difficult and upsetting this is. And how concerned she is to get things sorted out quickly. While it is a matter for the water supply company to deal with, we have been in touch with them to support her in getting the problem fixed swiftly.  Meanwhile, we have investigated how this happened so that, if there are any actions we can take to make sure this doesn’t happen again, we make any changes. For example, yesterday I was out on site and talked to the team there to discuss ways in which we might offer more reassurance to customers.”  
 
Now, the viewers at home are more persuaded!
 
Even when the story is positive interviewees can fall into the same trap of giving brief, stilted answers, which kill the opportunity to give a much more engaging response.  
 
For example:
Interviewer: “So, you’ve been keeping bees for a long time then?” 
Bee-keeper: “Yes, that’s right.” 
 
Dull, sometimes even cringe-worthy. Interviewers want someone to talk enthusiastically and interestingly. 
 
Improved version:
 
Interviewer: “So, you’ve been keeping bees for a long time then?”  
Interviewee: “Yes, since I was a boy – more than 50 years. I was always fascinated by them in my grandad’s garden so I suppose you could say it runs in the family.  I’ve probably looked after a million bees in total.” 
 
Now, the audience has pricked up its collective ears!
 
2.     They think the interviewer is the audience
 
Standing in front of an interviewer and camera is daunting so it’s no surprise that most interviewees focus on the person asking the questions.  What they often forget is that the interviewer is just a channel to speak to the programme’s wider audience at home.  
Therefore, it’s important to remember what you want the viewers at home to know and to frame what you say in ways that the real audience will understand and be interested in.  
 
Keeping that audience clearly in your mind also helps if the interviewer gets testy in their questioning. Picture the viewers at home and it’s easier to respond more slowly, with relevant details – perhaps a useful example to help paint a picture – and a positive tone.
 
3.     They don’t focus on their key messages
 
Ahead of any interview it’s critical to understand the topic and be clear on what your key messages are on it.  Taking time to prepare properly means that you know your facts but have also thought about how to use those in a conversational way to explain them and to ensure that your audience hears clearly the most important points you want to make.
 
How to prepare for any interview 
 
1.     Jot down the three or four main points you would like to get across.
2.     Think of all the possible questions the interviewer can ask on the topic – including the difficult ones, the ones you don’t want to answer and any left-field remarks that might crop up.  
3.     Prepare how you would respond to all of these.  You can do this in writing to start off with but always include time for practising out loud with other colleagues.
4.     Once you are comfortable with what you need to say, start practising how you can include what you want to say – that is, one or more of your key messages.
5.     Keep talking to yourself and others until you are fluent in answering the questions and moving on to your key messages.
6.     A good interview should result in at least two of your key messages coming across loud and clear.
 
4.     They show their feelings
 
Interviewers often ask difficult questions.  It’s their job.  Sometimes they want to uncover the truth about a situation or maybe they are looking for another perspective.  Sometimes they are asking the questions the audience at home would like to ask.  Sometimes they are just having a bad day.  Regardless, do NOT let them rile you!
 
As the representative of your business you need to stay calm and deal with the questions.  You can show enthusiasm or regret or even a little humour as the interview demands but you must never show that the interviewer has got under your skin.  Why not?
 
·       This may be your only chance to get your point of view and your key messages on TV.  Don’t throw it away.
·       An irritated or angry interviewee looks unprofessional, ill-prepared for the questions, sometimes a bit shifty – as if they have something to hide.
·       An aggressive line of questioning can sometimes encourage sympathy towards the interviewee. A calm but committed demeanour can stand you in good stead to win the audience vote.
 
5.     They don’t follow it up 
 
Taking part in a TV interview is a valuable opportunity to meet producers, researchers and journalists.  Talk to them about other programmes they are making and ask how you can help them in the future. Suggest people or places that might be relevant to any programmes they mention.  Be helpful.
 
If you have other possible stories coming up in your own business, mention them briefly and ask if you can contact.  Be sure to get their details so that when the time comes you can easily get in touch.
 
Some interviews are tricky, some go like a dream. But they are always an opportunity to reach your audience, make new media contacts, and learn more for the future.
 
Follow me on twitter or Linkedin for more advice on building your reputation and PR.

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