If you’re in PR and have watched Season 5 of “Orange Is the New Black,” you may have cringed during episode 6 when Aleida Diaz (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez) was interviewed at a local news station to discuss the prison riots. Aleida was given no information besides when to show up, she wore an outfit that wasn’t suitable for the camera, and she followed her friend’s advice to “answer questions with a question.”
Don’t let that scene discourage you from ever conducting a TV interview, because rest assured, that’s not how interviews in the real world go. Here’s what you (or your client) can expect, and what you can do to prepare:
- Practice your messaging: Keep it concise, so that your message can be clearly retained and understood. Because TV interviews are either live, or on tape, there are really no do-overs; once you’ve said something, it’s out there. So it’s important to make sure your responses are within your talking points and that you’re comfortable with the material being discussed.
If you’re being interviewed as a subject matter expert, keep your non-expert audience in mind – drilling down into the weeds of a topic can bore or confuse your audience. If you lose the audience, what have you gained?
- Be prepared for anything: If you’re going to appear on TV for a live or pre-recorded interview, you can expect a TV producer to chat with you beforehand and go over the areas to be covered. Do not assume, however, that the questions in the interview will be limited to the topics you discuss with a producer. The interviewer may come up with a question on the fly or hear something you said during your appearance and have a follow-up of some kind. Be prepared for anything. Get ready to discuss anything in your industry, be it positive or negative. For example, if you work for a pharmaceutical company and are being interviewed about a great initiative your company is doing, you should also be prepared to be asked about a more controversial topic, such as high drug prices (more on that later). Saying “no comment” or looking like you’re caught off guard can make you look unprepared and reduce your credibility.
- Check the news headlines before you go on: If there is a late-breaking development in your industry, expect an interviewer to ask a question about it. Believe me, since you’re the expert, the show will expect not only that you know about the development, but that you have an answer. Do yourself a favor – check your phone for any stories that might be of interest. Nothing worse than being caught flat-footed when it’s entirely avoidable.
- Keep in mind the things you can’t discuss: Personnel issues, litigation, ongoing investigations, and topics not within your wheelhouse are topics to be avoided. It’s OK to respond to these types of questions with “I’m unable to answer that question because it’s a personnel issue,” or “It’s a pending lawsuit, I’m sorry but I really can’t get into that.” You get the idea.
- Practice the Pivot: There are times when a question is posed that we just don’t want to answer because it doesn’t benefit us or our client. For example, let’s say you’re the spokesperson for that pharmaceutical company and you’re talking about a new product on the market, and let’s say the high drug prices question pops up. Instead of getting defensive, simply pivot and turn the question around with: “Jane, that’s a great question – we agree that high drug prices are a problem and it’s something XYZ drug company is always working to address. We think our new drug gives customers around the world access to a safe and affordable treatment that will go a long way in helping people get healthy. And that’s what we’re commited to at XYZ – keeping drug prices affordable while providing patients the care they need.” You’ve answered the question somewhat then pivoted to a message that makes your company look proactive. The last thing the audience hears on this questuino is that your company is committed to affordable prices and gtting people the care they need – not a bad message.
- Look like you’ve been there before: When it comes to your wardrobe, stick to solids, and avoid patterns and distracting jewelry. If you’re going into a studio, chances are good the show will have a make-up person put powder on your face to keep your skin from looking shiny under the lights while keeping sweat to a minimum. If you’re traveling to a news station, plan on getting there 20 to 30 minutes early. That way, you’ll have time to relax and think about your talking and pivot points before you appear on set.
- Keep your body language in mind: Smile. Be pleasant. Maintain eye contact with the host. Keep your posture open and relaxed. Avoid “ums” and “uhs,” and make sure you keep hand gestures, foot tapping and other nervous movements to a minimum. In doing so, you’ll appear more confident and at ease.
If you put these tips into action, you’ll come off as a credible and effective messenger who will no doubt be invited back. For more tips on how to answer tough questions in an interview, click here. Good luck!
(Images from Orange is the New Black are the property of Netflix)