Often, when people think about public relations, they think about major national media attention or scandals that throw once-trusted brands into chaos. But there are moments, even on the biggest of stages, that PR can get very personal.
I’m not talking about being forced to answer embarrassing questions or being publicly “outed” in a humiliating way. I’m talking about the inherent tunneling that can happen during an interview, the connection between the interviewer and their subject that pushes out the world and can make the subject feel like a target. This exchange is fraught with subtext and more often than not defined as much by nonverbal communication than by the soundbites milled from the exchange.
So, how can you be better prepared for your next interview? How can you know you’re ready, even when you don’t really know what questions are coming? Here are a few simple rules to follow that will help you be your best in any interview, no matter how below the belt the questions become.
Research the Reporter Ahead of Time
If you are going to sit down, one-on-one, with a reporter, get to know how they work. Watch other interviews. Look for their cadence, question order, standard topics. Read previous articles and look for focuses and tendencies. Look especially at how they have covered people or brands like you in the past. Are they apt to be sympathetic or confrontational? Upbeat or challenging? Do they like to draw subjects in, then drop the hammer, or are they tough all the way through?
Be Prepared for What’s Coming
If you are sitting down for an interview during a PR crisis, be realistic about the kinds of questions you will be asked. Prepare responses to the toughest versions of the questions you think will be coming, then prepare follow up answers to the questions that will be created by your answers. Understand that deflections or tantrums in these key moments look very bad for you, so practice being forthright and calm while getting grilled, so you won’t lose your cool.
Stay on Message
An interview is not just about what they want to ask you, it’s also – and more importantly – about what you want to say to their audience. Practice your most important messages until you have them down cold. Then work out ways to direct answers back to your key messages. When you try this without practice it can come off as wooden, looking like a deflection, like you didn’t want to answer the question. So, practice both crafting your message and how to use conversational connectors (or ‘verbal bridges’) to bring the thread back around to the message you really want to get out. Work on this until it looks, sounds, and feel natural.
Get Caught up on Current Events
It’s always a good idea to by familiar with the current events of the day, especially where they may intersect with your message. Sure, it’s okay to change the subject if you get caught off guard, but it’s much better if you can comment with authority before pivoting to a more comfortable topic. Just understand that the reporter is looking for a story that is interesting and timely, making it newsworthy. If they can connect your conversation to something else in the headlines, it’s a win for them. If you go in with that understanding and handle it well, it can be a win for you too.