How to give good interview

marie claire POST

It’s weird when you’re sitting at the hairdresser and you turn the page of the magazine you’re reading to come face to face with … yourself.

That’s what happened recently when I opened the pages of the July 2012 issue of marie claire magazine. Although I’ve been featured in magazines before, it’s still a surprise when you see your face looking back at you. But it was certainly an honour to be included in the article, which was written by veteran journalist Allison Tait who interviewed me about my transition from being an accountant to becoming a writer.

Being interviewed by a journalist can be intimidating, fun, enlightening – and everything in between. Now let me say from the outset that I happen to know Allison. So being interviewed by her wasn’t scary in the least.

However, if you’ve never been interviewed by the media before – and you’re not sure what to say or do when you’re being confronted with personal questions by a total stranger – it can be an unsettling experience.

marie claire article MEDIUM

The marie claire article featuring yours truly and written by the wonderful Allison Tait,

While I could do an entire day’s training on how to deal with the media, if I had to give crash course, here are my top tips.

1. Be honest
When you’re being thrown some curly questions – or even the non-curly ones – don’t lie. It might be tempting to make your business sound bigger than it really is. But this will come back to bite you in the you-know-where. I’m not suggesting that you have to reveal everything about yourself. You don’t need to divulge every skeleton you have in your closet.

For example, you don’t have to reveal all your financial figures just because a journalist has asked. But think about WHY they might be asking about your turnover? They’re probably looking to establish some kind of benchmark so that readers can understand whether you are operating your business from the kitchen table in between school drops or if you’re an established business that’s set to take on the world. If you don’t want to reveal your turnover, just say something like this: “We don’t reveal those figures but if you’re look for some statistics to illustrate our size, perhaps these numbers are useful. We have 10 staff and our revenue growth has increased 20 per cent each year for the past three years.”

There are still ways to help out the journalist (so that they can get what they want from the interview) without having to bare your soul and all your intimate details.

2. Don’t be afraid to say: “I don’t know”
When you’re being interviewed by a journalist, you might think it’s important that you should know everything there is to know about your business or your industry. But that’s just unrealistic. The worst thing you can do is guess-timate an answer that might actually be totally out of the ballpark.

If you don’t know the answer to something, simply say: “I don’t know the answer to that.” However, always follow that sentence with this vital phrase: “But I’ll find out for you.” That way you’re showing your willingness to help. And the journalist will move on to the next topic.

3. Remember what YOU want to get out of the interview
It’s vital to remember what key message you want conveyed during the interview. The biggest mistake I see business owners make is simply answering all the journalist’s questions without thinking about the key message they want readers/viewers to take away from the story. For example, let’s say you’re a chiropractor and the journalist wants to talk to you about new back pain therapies. But you have a new book about back pain that you’d love to promote.

If you simply answer the journalist’s questions you could spend a lot of time simply talking about back pain. That’s great – but it would probably be even better if you could work in a dialogue like this …

Journalist: “So what happens to the sciatic nerve when that bone presses on it?”
You: “That’s a really common source of pain. In fact, that’s why I had to dedicate an entire chapter in my book called “Back Pain for Dummies” just to focus on the sciatic nerve. Here are the top three reasons for the pain ….”

4. Assume everything is on the record
Unless the journalist is your BFF then assume that everything you say is on the record. Sure, there are situations when talking “off the record” is suitable. But if you’re dealing with a journalist you’ve never met before or if you’re talking about a contentious issue in any way, then you should only speak about issues that you’re happy to see in print or on national television! Don’t expect the journalist to read your mind and edit out the sensitive issues – if you don’t want it broadcast to the world, don’t say it.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid of the media. Getting publicity for your business, cause or message can be invaluable to build your profile or get more customers. Treat journalists as allies, not enemies, and you could end up with a mutually productive – and long-standing – relationship that could become the cornerstone of your success.

If you want more guidance on how to work with the media and get more publicity, you might enjoy our one-day seminar with PR expert Catriona Pollard: PR and Media Releases That Get Results.


About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.