In a time when we are all focused on corporate social responsibility, I am about to give you permission to be selfish.
Pick your descriptor for our current media environment – lighting fast, less informed, sensationalist – and you'll come to realize how spokespersons need to change their ways to match this new landscape. You see, the runway for success when participating in an interview is smaller, shorter and bumpier, assuming you define success as I do. I’ll get into that in a second.
This new landscape condition is partly the media's fault; fewer reporters in newsrooms can spend the appropriate time to develop a story and they now have to feed the ever-crushing, never-satisfied hunger of an online audience.
It is also partly our fault – the media consumers who settle for under-cooked stories, make assessments by headlines only, and favor recreational outrage over critical thought.
But, regrettably, here we are. Let's get back to being selfish.
Break the Conversation
Interviews cannot be treated as conversations. That’s always been true, but the pressure is even more difficult. Less-informed reporters – that is, reporters without a wealth of experience or a “beat” – turn otherwise prepared spokespersons into educators, aiming to help the reporter understand rather than to convey. We must resist the pressures of the landscape. We must think of a media interaction as an opportunity to deliver a message to readers, viewers or listeners. No matter how much an interview might feel like a conversation, it's not. And you better believe the reporter isn't there to make a friend. He or she has a job to do.
As a spokesperson, you do, too.
We train spokespersons on a set of techniques to break the conversational nature of an exchange with a reporter and, ultimately, to be selfish. Effective spokespersons deliver just what they want, and they know how to navigate challenging questions, keep a dialogue trained on where they want to go and – here's the key – stay laser-focused on their goals for the interview.
It is poetry in action when you see a spokesperson seamlessly bridge from answer to answer providing just the information they want the audience (remember – the audience, not the reporter) to absorb.
Here are three tips to help shed your overly friendly demeanor and break out your selfish side ... even if only for a few minutes.
1. Be intentional about your goals. Don’t just wing an interview because you’re an expert and you can aptly answer questions. That won’t get you an impactful result. You shouldn’t do an interview just because you know something; you should do it because you want to influence how an audience thinks, feels or acts. Before you say yes to an interview, determine what YOU would hope to achieve.
2. Plan out three to five major points – key messages – that support your goals and a few supporting facts – talking points – to organize your thoughts. Take this part of the process seriously. Don’t rest on your laurels. It’s easy as a subject-matter expert to build a sense of comfort with the material and wing an interview. Plan for pith. You have seconds to deliver your message. One to two sentences, if not just a sentence fragment. Stand behind your messages even in pieces, not just in their full narrative form.
3. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. Now that you have your messages mapped out, you must speak them aloud. Recite them to yourself, to your co-workers, to the family pet – it doesn’t matter. Get comfortable with the words coming out of your mouth, and practice how you’ll selfishly answer just about any question thrown your way with one of your messages first. When you hone these skills, you’ll be able to effortlessly land your message and still answer the question. Yes, it feels funny. And yes, you still have to do it. It’s an art that takes practice.
Remember, the goal of an interview isn’t to have a pleasant exchange; it’s to see YOUR message included in the coverage. Being selfish increases the chances your message will ultimately be represented in the story. And, in the end, that's the only true measure of success following the interview.