I am always shocked by how many of my media training clients tell me they usually just “wing it” during a news interview or presentation to a live audience. Seriously? While I appreciate the self-confidence, there are very few people who can pull off that approach. Case in point, while I won an Emmy for “live reporting”, the TV news business taught me very quickly that despite my strong ad-lib abilities, “winging it” usually resulted in less than stellar live shots. Without a plan or road map, most of us will come up short. With that in mind, here are my top three basic strategies for success when facing a reporter or live audience:
Identify your top three message points and practice beforehand. Doing this will ensure you don’t forget your primary messages and will keep you on message. I also tell my clients not to be afraid of repeating your message. While it may feel repetitive to you, your audience needs to hear your message more than once for it to sink-in.
Know your audience and the room. There is nothing worse than addressing a reporter or live audience and misfiring when it comes to your message and content. Remember the movie, Jerry Maguire and the line, “you had me at hello.” It is just as easy to lose someone at “hello’. Know who you are speaking to, and tailor your message to hook them from the start. Additionally, know the room you will be in. A large ballroom with a podium and mic? Or a small meeting room at a conference table? Both are very different and may require completely different techniques as to how you should address the audience. When I’m in a large ballroom, I prefer to wear a wireless clip-on mic so I can move around the room and engage a larger audience. If in a small conference room, it may be beneficial to stand instead of sit, to ensure you are seen and heard. Most of those being interviewed in a TV news setting are not aware that the interviewee can dictate a lot of the process. If you prefer to stand than sit, make that request. Usually the media does not have a preference and will work with you.
Use an index card and outline. Not a script! News interviews and live presentations are just awful when fully scripted, word for word. Both come across as canned and robotic and no one wants to look and sound like Mr. Roboto. I like to work from bullet points, written on a piece of paper or index card. Why? Bullet points keep me on message, but also allows for some level of ad-libbing and spontaneity. When I feel like I am starting to drift off message, a quick glance at my bullet points straightens me out, but doesn’t come across as scripted. If doing a news interview, practice with your notes but leave them at your desk. Glancing at your note card during an on-camera interview will look too distracting.