The first time I was interviewed in the media, I think I was about 19 and was incredibly excited, but also nervous. Over the 30 minute interview with my local newspaper, I talked a ton and thought it went really well. When the article came out, I wasn’t even quoted and only got a short mention.
The next interview I did with another newspaper, they quoted me, but took some of the quotes out of context and tried to pin me into a corner on one aspect of my business. Over the next three years, I got better at talking to the media and giving public presentations, culminating in a 20 minute presentation to a congressional committee (PDF) and a TV news segment about my website.
Fast-forward six years. My business partner Jesse and I have been interviewed 100s of times for major newspapers and blogs including the NY Times, Mashable, the Financial Times, TechCrunch and have appeared live on Fox Business News, two local TV stations and multiple radio shows including NPR San Francisco. Now we both get prime coverage, tons of quotes and compliments on how well we handle speaking to the press.
So what went wrong in 2005? And how have Jesse and I gotten to the point where we’re completely comfortable in any media situation that comes our way?
In 2005, I talked quickly, rambled and didn’t really practice ahead of time. I gave up too much information just because the reporter asked. I talked about too many things, but not one super interesting stat. In short, I made the journalist’s job hard.
Over the course of 2005-2008, I got better speaking to the media with practice. In 2009, just before we were launching Entrustet at South By Southwest, we hired a PR firm called Shift Communications to help us out with our launch for our first few weeks. They did a good job helping us get in the news, but to me, their real value with in their prep work.
Shift interviewed Jesse and me and then told us which parts to keep and which parts sucked. They listened in on our first interviews and then helped us with “after action reports.” After each call, Shift employees told us how we could have said something better, the parts the journalist really liked and the parts we should drop for future interviews. After a few weeks, Jesse and I were clearly getting better. By the time our contract with Shift was up, we were pretty good.
Over the next few months, we honed our interview style on our own. Here’s 19 tips for giving interviews so that your quotes get used and you don’t say something you regret:
Before the Interview
1. Practice. Write down 3-4 key points that you want to get across and practice saying them concisely. Practice on your friends, family, in the mirror, random victims in the coffee shops/bars. Try reaching out to small blogs and pitch them your story. If you make a mistake or are nervous, only a small audience will notice.
2. Get 1 go-to stat. Ours is three Facebook users die every single minute and Facebook doesn’t know who they are or what they wanted done with their accounts. With ExchangeHut, it was we facilitated ticket transfers for 10% of the student section during homecoming games. Our Facebook stat has been used in the NY Times, Atlantic, TechCrunch and many more.
3. Get Feeback. Find someone outside your company who will agree to listen to your first few interviews while you are giving them who can provide feedback after the interview is done.
4. Make a plan. Decide if there is anything you absolutely don’t want to discuss and go over your 3 main points you’ve been practicing.
During the Interview
5. Relax. The interviewer wants to get your story.
6. Ask how much time you have. At the beginning, ask the reporter if he has a hard stop, which is asking if the reporter must stop at a certain time. If you only have a short window, don’t chitchat, just get right to the point.
7. Talk slowly. Reporters are taking notes, so talk slowly. If you’re live, talking slowly makes you sound relaxed, smart and personable, even if you’re not.
8. Don’t ramble. Try not to speak for more than 30-60 seconds at a time.
9. Answer directly. Don’t use business buzzwords and don’t speak too technically.
10. Don’t feel like you need to answer every question. If you don’t want to answer a question, don’t. Develop a line to sidestep the question. Say, “we’d rather keep that stat private.” Or “we’re a private company and we don’t disclose those figures.”
11. Don’t fill silence. In non-live interviews, silence is ok. The interviewer is gathering her thoughts or taking notes. They don’t want to hear your nervous verbal diarrhea.
12. Let the interviewer finish. Even if you know what the question is going to be. Nothing pisses off a journalist more and it makes you sound like an asshole.
13. Don’t sell. Inform. Nobody likes a salesman. Being a salesman is the quickest way to piss off a reporter, who will not include your quotes. Be yourself.
14. If you don’t know, admit it. Don’t make something up. The correct response is “That’s a great question we hadn’t though of yet. I’ll research it and let you know the answer when we find out.”
After the Interview
15. Say Thanks. Send a thank you email telling the reporter that they should feel free to contact you if they have any follow up questions or need anything clarified. Include your phone/email.
16. Follow up with facts. If there is anything to add to the story, email the reporter before the article is published. For example, Oklahoma just passed a law that allows executors access to online accounts of dead people. I emailed a link to any reporters who were still working on our story and might benefit from it.
17. Respond to comments/Twitter. When the article is published, make sure to respond to comments and interact on Twitter.
18. Do an after action report with your friend who listened to the interview. Be honest and demand honesty from your friend. If they don’t provide honest feedback, you’ll never get better.
19. Be honest with yourself and learn from each interview. Take your friend’s feedback and incorporate it into your next interview.
Do you have any tips or strategies you use to make sure you get quoted? Do you disagree with any of my tips? What would you add to my list?