Journalist Pete Wise has interviewed hundreds of people for clients including The Guardian, NatWest and LAMA. Here are his five top tips on how to give better answers to TV, podcast and print media interview questions.
Getting interviewed is usually great news for you and your brand. It could be a way to get your message out to new people, to set the record straight about the challenges you’ve faced and to build credibility with your audience.
All that depends on how well you interview.
Interviewees are not all made equal. The best ones will have a great chance of getting their point across effectively, making life easy for their interviewer and securing high-profile coverage. The worst might not even see their interview published.
To help you answer questions well and maximise the benefits of any interviews you do, here’s my best advice on how to be a great interviewee:
1. Have an idea of what you’ll say – but only a loose one
It’s always advisable to prep before an interview, as this will help ensure you come across just as you would like to. If you go into an interview unprepared, the risk of saying something regrettable will be heightened.
A good preparation is to sketch out two or three key messages you would like to communicate in the interview. This could be a personal worldview, or it could be a business’ value proposition to its customers. For example, a telecoms tech entrepreneur might use messaging such as:
- Our purpose is to bring people closer to each other using technology.
- Everything I do stems from the fundamental belief people don’t need to be lonely.
- Telecoms providers in the past haven’t done enough for customer privacy. We’re changing that.
Your messages should not be scripted statements to recite from memory. Most journalists dislike that approach, as it obscures the real “voice” of the interviewee. Instead, think of your messages as ideas to build your arguments and anecdotes around. Stay true to who you are – but not necessarily to the script.
2. Pepper your answers with interesting facts and anecdotes
Juicy facts and stories are the stuff of great interviews, so do your best to include plenty of them in your responses.
Right now, you can probably think of lots of interesting things about your brand or your area of specialism. Write a few of them down and consider how you could work them into a response to a journalist’s question about your business.
If you can’t think of any killer facts off the top of your head, look some up and memorise them. For example, if your brand is all about making cooking easier, find out how much time the average person spends working in the kitchen. Or, if there are any unique facts about your business, share those.
Telling facts and anecdotes is a very effective way to turn a short and boring response into an interesting one.
So, if a journalist asks you “How’s business?”, you wouldn’t just say, “It’s great, thanks, our sales are up.”
Instead, you could say something like: “It’s great, thanks. We just shipped our 5,000th order of the year, and we’ve had to buy in a load of new manufacturing equipment to increase our production capacity. Our production manager tells me he’s now having to walk all the way around the factory floor to get to the cafeteria, so he’s not too happy with us.”
Most journalists are looking for a winning combination of information and colour from every interview. Respond to their questions with interesting facts and anecdotes to help them find what they’re looking for.
3. Make a journalist’s day by telling them something you’ve never told anyone before
The ultimate test of an interview’s worth is this: what new information does it reveal about its subject? The greater the amount of fresh info it gives the reader/viewer/listener, the better.
For the interviewee, this makes pleasing an interviewer relatively straightforward. All you need to do is tell them something new.
There are lots of ways to do this. You could reveal new details of a product, your company’s strategy or your own professional role. Alternatively, you could tell a personal story that you’ve never revealed to the public before.
You should also be sure to avoid repeating the answers you’ve given in previous interviews with other outlets.
It’s a journalist’s job to reveal unreported truths to their audience. If you can help them do that, both the interviewer and the interview itself will benefit.
4. No rambling!
Long, detailed answers are exactly what most interviewers are looking for – but only up to a certain point.
Speaking from personal experience, there are few things more frustrating than interviewing someone who won’t allow space in the conversation for you to pose questions. This prevents the interviewer from steering the conversation to the areas they need to cover, which obliges them to awkwardly interrupt the interviewee. In extreme cases, an interviewer might decide to give up altogether on getting the answers they need from a rambling interviewee.
To avoid frustrating your interviewer, consider pausing briefly at regular intervals during your responses, as this will allow them time to interject with follow-up questions.
Read their body language. If they look like they are eager to speak, let them.
And above all, strive to make your answers comprehensive but snappy, like Swish Goswami does in the video below.
5. Be real
The most important thing to bear in mind when being interviewed is to be true to yourself – or true to your company if you are acting as a spokesperson.
That means being open, to a certain extent, about the challenges you have faced or are facing. Most audiences are not especially interested in hearing the airbrushed version of a story; they also want to hear about the struggle and strife.
Reveal a little more than it feels comfortable to reveal. It’s okay to admit your weaknesses and the adversities you’ve encountered, so long as the nature of those challenges do not compromise your business’ reputation.
It’s also important to remember that an interview is a real conversation with another real person. There’s no need for everything you say to be perfectly slick, just so long as it’s true. Remember: the journalist interviewing you is likely to sand the rough edges off the conversation during the editing process.
Personally, one of my favourite interviewees was a man called Richard Bronson, who has gone from being one of the fraudsters who inspired “Wolf of Wall Street” to founding a America’s first jobs portal for people with criminal records. I found his responses to my questions deeply honest, open, and ultimately, riveting. You can read that interview here.
Fancy putting some of these ideas into practice? If so, try recording a video response to one of our ready made interview questions on the LAMA app.