Nikki Arnone, SSPR
If you’ve ever hung up the phone after an interview with a reporter and felt completely in the dark about how well the call went, you’re definitely not alone. But don’t fret – there are some tell-tale signs that a call’s going south, and you can learn how to tune into reporter clues to improve your interview before it’s over.
Reporters, those mysterious, much sought-after unicorns, are actually as human as you or me. Learning to pay attention to their subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) physical and vocal cues will allow you to work on your responses and messaging to keep your interviewer more interested and engaged. Here are four warning signs to look out for:
1. The reporter cuts you off.
The truth is, we all love to hear ourselves talk and we think the product or service our company offers is the most interesting thing on the planet. Who wouldn’t want to hear me explain each nuance for 20 minutes straight without taking a breath? But reporters are usually in a hurry, and they appreciate nothing more than succinct answers that cut right to the chase. They’re looking for pearls of wisdom and enticing sound bites.
If the reporter cuts you off mid-answer, you’re probably rambling on just a bit too long and losing their attention. Practice your answers to potential questions beforehand and work on trimming out the fluff. Offer your key messaging points first, not after a long-winded buildup.
2. The reporter has no follow-up questions.
Let’s say you just divulged some major news or explained what you feel is the most exciting aspect of your company’s work, and the seemingly unengaged reporter bulldozes right along. This should tell you one of two things: 1) Your response was overly complicated and they didn’t understand the concept well enough to come up with a worthwhile follow-up question or, 2) You did not explain why the exciting tidbit you just divulged is new, important or groundbreaking.
In the first scenario, unless you are speaking to another expert from your industry, the reporter is probably hoping to write a more generally accessible story. Using industry jargon and complicated lingo is a great way to lose someone’s attention.
The second issue is also common; we know our company is doing something incredibly groundbreaking, and we assume other people just get it, too. Well, they probably don’t. Don’t be afraid to paint the picture for them. Reporters don’t write stories on companies that are doing what everyone else is doing, they want to know what really sets you apart in a big way. Make it clear.
3. The reporter is looking away or distracted.
This one applies to in-person interviews or video calls. If your interviewer is scrolling through their emails, checking out their chipped nail polish or otherwise dozing off, these are major red flags. You want their eyes to be in one of two places: on you or on their notes.
If you see their attention drift away, try wrapping up your answer quickly and turning the table. Ask the reporter a question to re-engage them. Something simple like, “Would you like me to explain ____ again?” or, “Did that answer your question?” could be enough to bring them back to the conversation. And it should be just that: a conversation, not a one-sided storytelling session.
4. The reporter never publishes the story or uses your comments.
The ultimate letdown: You talked to a reporter for 40 minutes in what you thought was a rousing conversation, and you never see your name or company mentioned in any of their future articles.
Revisit the problems we’ve already discussed. Was the story you told groundbreaking and exciting? Did you make the subject matter easy to understand so an “educated generalist” could digest it and take away something new? Were you clear in presenting the key messages, or were they hidden under lengthy rants?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the reporter (or have your PR team connect) to find out why the story didn’t run and ask for a follow-up conversation. The answer may simply be, “No,” but there’s no harm in offering to clarify your answers or proposing a new topic you didn’t discuss the first time.
The above scenarios may leave our egos a bit bruised, but they should be used as learning experiences. Practice makes perfect when it comes to interview skills, and we’re all bound to have a few failures as we work our way to becoming seasoned veterans. Talk through your experiences with your PR team and make a mental note of what to change next time around. These improvements are the best way to become an in-demand source for the media, highlighting your company in a way that will keep your boss and investors smiling.