You prepared your pitch. You made sure to frame it so that the focus wasn’t just on the individual, but included the broader environment. The journalist calls and shows interest in your story. You agree on a time for the interview.
As you hang up the phone, it sinks in: it’s up to you to ensure that your spokesperson is ready for the interview. Is it a television or radio interview? Is it a live broadcast, or recorded and edited for later playback? Is it a newspaper interview? Will the interview be conducted face to face or over the phone? The type of interview will impact the preparation. No matter which media you are working with, your spokesperson needs to know the most important messages they want to deliver.
When you are preparing your spokesperson, it’s important to think through a few questions to ensure that your message will be understandable and impactful.
Who is the audience? You need to be speaking to the reader/viewer/listener of the media outlet and deliver a message that will resonate with them.
What are the key messages your need to deliver? Write them down. Make sure your spokesperson is familiar with the messages and comfortable delivering them in a conversational way. Avoid using the jargon often used within your organization or cause and make sure that someone hearing about the issue for the first time can understand.
What story can you tell that will capture their attention? Stories and examples are the quickest way to engage your audience. By painting a mental picture, you can more easily explain the problem and how your solution will be successful.
How can they help? If you don’t prepare, it can be easy to forget to tell the audience how they can help. You’ve captured their attention, you’ve painted a picture of the problem and your solution. Tell the audience how they can get involved! Contact their decision-maker? Visit your Website to sign up as an advocate? Volunteer or attend an event?
Once the preparation is complete you need to practice, practice, practice. Some of the challenges you may face with spokespeople are:
- Someone who is overly nervous
- Someone who is overly confident
- Someone who has trouble sticking to key messages, talks too much, and/or rambles on and on
- Someone who is not well versed in our policy goal (has a personal story, but who isn’t part of the on-the-ground advocacy campaign)
- Someone who has body-language, tone of voice, facial expressions, or ways of speaking that are distracting
It can be challenging to provide helpful feedback to a spokesperson. You need to learn how to do it sensitively, while doing it in a way that is helpful and productive. When providing feedback, start with the positive. Ask them to talk about what they felt went well, and provide some positive comments of your own. Follow up by asking what they think they could do better next time, and provide your own feedback on that as well. Then practice the response again.
One of the most powerful tools we have for preparing for interviews is a camera. Most of us walk around with a smart phone in our hands. Use it to record while you practice. Watch it together. Practice until your spokesperson feels confident.
Practice answering questions that may be related to your issue, but not quite on point. Bridging is a way to stay on message during an interview, and is especially important when a reporter asks a question that is off your subject, difficult to answer, or when you have a short window to get your message across.
Step 1: Acknowledge the question. You may not actually answer the question – in fact, you may not even know the answer – but acknowledge the question has been asked.
Step 2: Find your way back to your message. You may answer the question with a very short response (“Yes… (the answer), and in addition to that…”) or you could respond with a bridging phrase (“I don’t know… but what I do know is…”)
Step 3: Deliver your message. Try not to sound rehearsed. Nothing captures people’s attention more than a well-crafted message delivered with passion from a credible source.
Prepare for the questions you least want to be asked. If you can feel comfortable with those answers, you’ll definitely feel comfortable with the questions you do want to be asked.
After the interview, be sure to ask your spokesperson to provide you with feedback. What did you do well in preparing them for the interview? What could you do next time to help them feel more prepared and confident?
Finally, follow up with the journalist after the interview to ensure they have everything they need. Every interview is an opportunity to continue to build that relationship.