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How to prepare for an interview with a journalist

30 January 2023

We take a look at How to prepare for an interview as every day we know people are shouting out Answer the question! at countless TVs and radios. Just this week the Social Care Minister Helen Whately was dealing with questions on the Today programme about the integrity of Conservative politicians after the sacking of another senior colleague. STV’s Holyrood Editor Colin Mackay asked Rishi Sunak the same question several times over about Scottish independence. The experienced journalist then told the PM he was completely ignoring his question. Rishi Sunak just didn’t go near the subject in his first couple of answers and must have been squirming as this was pointed out to him. Politicians trying to deflect is something we’re all used to seeing and it’s frustrating to the interviewing journalist and, probably, everyone listening at home.

Matt Hancock laughed about the art of the politicians’ ‘pivot’ with his I’m A Celebrity campmates. There is a skill to getting your point across and hitting your desired outcomes for a media interview, but don’t take it from him – take it from us. The public do want to hear what you have to say, so long as you deal with the question in hand. 

How to prepare for an interview with a journalist 

What do we think is the best way to prepare for an interview ? 

We work with private companies and public bodies. We’ve worked with politicians. Flatly ignoring a question to continue your own message is not in our playbook when we media train spokespeople. It often leads the journalist to hammer the point, as well as prompting clear hostility. And the public – or whoever your audience is – is unlikely to see you as anything other than someone trying to obfuscate ‘the truth’.

Much better to answer the question and then add what you want to say. To build your story. 

How to prepare for an interview is a really important part of the process. It must contain some responses to likely questions. A straightforward answer to a thorny question often takes the heat out of it. The story then becomes less about your refusal to answer a ‘simple question’.

Preparing short answers to anticipated questions is relatively quick to do. The real skill is in moving on from that , not creating a single quote , particularly if you have a string of media engagements. And there are techniques for bringing your answer back to what you really want to say. The important thing when you are preparing for an interview is to not think you can completely ignore a question. A frustrated journalist conscious of their audience is a dangerous thing.

Stop worrying about the negatives and focus on what you can achieve

It’s worth also saying that, unless you’re a cabinet minister or PM, the chances are that journalists are not ‘coming for you’ with their questioning. You should, however, always prepare to think on your feet and keep moving forward.  And be aware of the world around you. Journalists may be interested in what you think of the topics of the day, so have some answers for them!