Media Training 101 for B2B Public Relations: Top 5 Interview Mistakes…and Strategies to Fix Them

There’s usually some fear in the conference room.  There’s a tiny chance of tears.  And even anger lurks nearby.

Pop quiz…what kind of meeting could possibly elicit that level of emotion? Answer: a press interview.  For most folks, public speaking triggers worry, anxiety and self doubt.  Media training is designed to remove the emotion and get clients focused on how to maximize their opportunities with the press.

Our firm has media trained hundreds of B2B executives over the years and certain mistakes emerge over and over again.  Here are our top five:

Mistake #1: You forget to listen:  Many people want to rush the interview. The sooner it’s over, the happier they are. But if you are only paying attention to your side of the discussion, what are the odds that you are satisfying the reporter?

Solution: Remember that you are engaged in a dialogue; you are not a passive receiver of questions. Play detective. What can you deduce about the story direction? Don’t give the “kitchen sink” answer. Ask the reporter if they’d prefer an answer that offers an historical backdrop, future implications or considers gender? In other words, give them options. If your last answer didn’t seem to inspire enthusiasm, ask some questions to get back on track. Get “the ball back over the net.”

Mistake #2: You forgot your ultimate audience: Once you’ve labored to come up with an interesting angle that relates to your firm, it’s tempting to think your job is done. It’s not.  Editors, reporters and bloggers want to write a piece that’s customized for their own unique audience. The Wall Street Journal has a different editorial mandate than The American Banker.  And what interests The Associated Press is not likely to excite

Solution: Research audience specifics before the interview. Is it a national or regional story? What is the publication frequency? Is it a B2B or consumer audience? Get your facts straight, then retrofit your story.

Mistake #3: You develop a thesis, not a headline: Brevity is still the soul of wit. Having an MBA does not change that fact.  You may have a complicated message: derivative market fall-out, or perhaps detailed legal precedent. It doesn’t matter. The reporter already believes you are smart – that’s why they agreed to the interview. Now they want you to help them sell the story to their readers.

Solution: Prepare for the interview by streamlining your main messages into succinct headlines. Force yourself to say it in a sentence or less.  If you can’t reduce it, it may be because it’s not a truly differentiated thought. Discard it and pick another idea.

Mistake #4: You fell in love with your brochure or website copy: Did you spend months developing the exact words to describe your practice? Were you leading an initiative to rethink marketing at your company? If so, you may have unconsciously decided that’s the only “script” for your business.  It’s not. Reporters hate boring boilerplate language. They want the story that no one else has. They want thought leadership.

Solution:  You need to develop content that highlights your expertise. What’s likely to impact your end customers in the coming quarter? Will decisions by Congress affect their choices? Who are the likely winners and losers in this economic environment? Use your experience to draw meaningful conclusions that educate others.

Mistake #5:  You Forgot to Illustrate your Point: When we’re young, our parents teach us by using examples.  So, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is really meant to show children what can happen when you fib.  Human beings like to learn through stories.  But we forget this crucial lesson when it comes to persuasive professional speaking.  I’ve never had a media training session where this problem did not come up, usually multiple times. 

Solution: Prepare a story inventory that brings your messages to life.  It could take many forms: a recent customer anecdote, a colorful metaphor, a persuasive hypothetical or perhaps a “before and after” description that sets the stage for your point of view. Deliberately set out to interest and entice your interviewer with “ear candy” that persuades them to listen closely.

A successful interview produces lots of emotion, including relief, satisfaction, pride, passion and conviction.  What’s your experience with interviews? Is there a mistake that you learned from?

(photo by Michael Headrick Photography)


To reach Elizabeth:

Phone: 212.840.0017
Twitter: @elizabethsosnow
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