By Julie Stauffer ([email protected])

The media can be a powerful vehicle for raising your profile, getting your message out and gaining credibility, but not everyone feels comfortable confronting a reporter’s microphone. If the mere thought makes your palms sweat, take heart. The following tips will help you stay calm and in control during your next interview.

Buy yourself time

When a journalist calls, never feel pressured to answer questions on the spot. Find out what publication or program the piece is for, who the audience is, and what the angle will be. Then schedule the interview for a few hours or days later. Even 15 minutes will give you a chance to collect your thoughts.

Focus on key messages: Take that time to decide what key points you want to communicate. Make them clear and snappy and bring them to life with a few telling examples or statistics. Then rehearse everything out loud until it rolls off your tongue smoothly. Practice does make perfect!

During the interview, don’t be afraid to take the initiative

If the reporter’s question isn’t giving you the opening you want, respond briefly and then segue to one of your messages by adding “I think a crucial point to remember is…” or “the real key to this issue is….”

Relax!

A few deep breaths before you begin will reduce muscle tension.

Worried you’ll forget an important fact?

For a print or a radio interview, keep a cheat sheet handy. And if you don’t know the answer to a particular question, just say so. Similarly, if an answer doesn’t come out perfectly, there’s no need to panic. Unless you’re doing live TV or radio, it’s fine to say: “I did a poor job of explaining that. Let’s try it one more time.” If you are live, a good trick is to say “in other words …” and then rephrase your response.

Duck the difficult questions

When a contentious question comes up, avoid it with a smooth segue. Briefly explain why you’re not prepared to respond:

  • “That’s outside my area of expertise”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable speculating on that”
  • “I can’t comment on that because of confidentiality issues”.

Then follow up immediately with a phrase such as “but what I can tell you is…” or “but the point to stress is…” and return to one of your key messages. Voilà – you’re back in control!