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Imagine if you were going to address a stadium full of people. You'd probably spend hours (if not days or weeks) agonizing over every word you were going to say. You'd practice your gestures in the mirror. You'd carefully select your clothing. You might even rehearse with your family.
Surprisingly, though, many spokespeople don't give much thought to an interview before speaking to a reporter. "It's only one person," they may think, "Plus, I know my material cold."
Preparing for a media interview - during which you may reach many more people than could fit in a stadium - should be at least as important as preparing a speech for that rowdy crowd.
Here are seven ways you can help prepare before you speak to a member of the press:
1. Visualize An Audience of One -- Reporters are simply the conduit between you and the audience. Don't try to impress a journalist with the depth of your technical knowledge or envision an audience of thousands. Instead, visualize the woman listening to news radio on her drive home or the man sitting on his living room sofa reading the morning paper. That personal connection will help ensure that you're having a conversation with the audience instead of speaking at them.
2. Write Tomorrow's Headline -- Every time you give an interview, the reporter should walk away with a clear sense of what the headline will be - and you should be the person who gives it to her. Prior to each interview, write down your perfect headline. It should be short - no longer than a sentence - and completely compelling. During the interview, state your headline several times, and place as many of your other answers as possible within the context of that headline.
3. Play Bridge -- Reporters rarely ask the "perfect question" that allows you to deliver your ideal headline. Therefore, you'll have to seamlessly segue to your point. After answering a reporter's question directly, bridge to your headline by saying something such as, "But I think the most important thing here is..." or "The bigger picture is that...."
4. Help Them See It -- Since people are barraged with more information than they can retain, raw numbers and statistics rarely stick. Instead of just delivering information without context, develop a more user-friendly metaphor. For example, instead of saying that 4.5 million people have Alzheimer's disease, say that more Americans have Alzheimer's disease than Colorado does people.
5. Be a Layman -- Every profession has its own set of acronyms, specialized terms, and jargon that is not understood by the general public. Successful spokespeople know they have to express complicated thoughts simply to ensure their message resonates. Use metaphors, analogies and anecdotes to help make your point. If you're stuck, try explaining your topic in simple terms to your 12-year-old nephew until he understands it.
6. Accentuate the Positive -- If a reporter asks you an innocuous question, repeat back the question in the beginning of your answer. For example, "How is the weather today?" should be answered with, "The weather is beautiful today," instead of just, "Beautiful." Since a reporter's question is unlikely to be included in the story, speaking in complete sentences allows the journalist to quote an entire self-contained thought.
7. Eliminate the Negative -- If you are asked a negative question, such as, "Has your organization ever broken the law," do not answer by saying, "Our organization has never broken the law." Doing so connects illegal activity and your organization in the same sentence - something you never want to do. Instead, frame your answer in positive terms by saying, "We are confident that we have always complied with the law."
Brad Phillips is the founder and president of Phillips Media Relations (http://www.PhillipsMediaRelations.com). He was formerly a journalist for ABC News and CNN, and also headed the media relations department for the second largest environmental group in the world.
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