How to Prepare for the Big Interview

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The Questions You Ask Yourself are as Important as the Answers

After more than 20 years in the public relations business, I’ve discovered one universal truth: There’s really nothing quite as important as preparing for an interview.

After all, if you’ve gone through all the trouble of studying the news, reading about the issues and creating a set of resonant messages and have used them to score an interview with a journalist, why would you want to wing it? The problem is most people prepare for an interview by asking themselves the questions THEY would ask THEMSELVES, instead of asking the questions a professional journalist would likely ask them. That’s where I have seen many campaigns run off the rails before they begin.

Journalists care about how your interview could help their audience. So the trick is being able to prepare for their questions, and still work your messages into those answers. That’s why I wanted to take the time today to offer up some dos and don’ts.

  • Don’t Focus on You – Don’t write questions about yourself, unless it pertains to your expertise or the story being covered by the interviewer. Often when we watch authors or corporate figures being interviewed on TV, they get the questions “So, why did you write your book?” or “How did you come up with your new product?” However, those questions are typically asked only of well-known experts or celebrities like Oprah or Steve Jobs, because the audience knows them and are interested in their personal journey. People who lack name recognition don’t usually get asked this type of question by the major media. So, prepping with questions like “What was your goal in writing your book?” or “What makes your new product better than the competition?” won’t be helpful.
  • Focus on the Issues – Unless you are a name recognized celebrity, more often than not, the reason you are appearing as a guest on TV or radio or being interviewed for a print piece is because of your ability to provide expert commentary on something in the news. That’s the model we use in pitching our clients to the media and we find it to be very successful. In this sense, the questions you prepare for your mock Q & A should be centered on the news at hand. “What do you think will be the effect of [whatever news item you’re commenting on]?” or “What trends in the industry do you see as shaping the next few months?” Look at the headlines relevant to your expertise, and think about how you’d comment on them, almost as if you were having coffee with a friend, talking about trends, opinions and potential outcomes stemming from the news of the day.
  • Think Like a Journalist – When prepping for an interview, don’t think about it from the perspective of the questions that will help you get out your message. Believe me, the interviewer really isn’t invested in your messages. He or she wants to deliver the best segment they can in terms of information and entertainment for their audience. That’s why people watch or listen to that show, or read that writer’s columns. Think of questions that the host might ask to make it an entertaining and informative interview. What do you think his audience wants or needs to know about your topic? What information can you provide that is unique to your expertise, perhaps something no one else in the media would know to say? What is going to be the most useful and helpful thing you could tell that interviewer’s audience?

If you can focus on questions that relate to the news, the audience and your expertise, then you’ll find your preparation will bear the appropriate fruit when the spotlight is on you.

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