Preparing for media interviews is essential. You need messages, and you need to think about the tough questions. But we see people tie themselves in knots trying to anticipate all their nightmare or crisis issue questions: developing complicated answers to each and every one. Then in practise, the one question that really trips people up is nothing more complicated than “What does your business do?”
Preparing for media interviews: Can you articulate the basics?
It sounds a simple enough question but failing to find an effective and memorable answer to describe what their business does, is a trap into which many interviewees fall into head-long.
[I have recently presented a webinar on this subject for the IOD. It’s free and you can find the link at the bottom of the page.]
Despite corporate jargon frequently being cited as one of the most annoying business habits, too many people still fall back on phrases such as “end-to-end solutions”, “digital platforms”, “vertical markets” and “leveraging synergies”. The digital and tech sectors, in particular, often over-estimate the understanding of their audience.
Can you ditch the jargon?
I hit this problem head-on recently, when training some otherwise impressive young entrepreneurs. Their descriptions of what they did were peppered with just these sort of phrases and it took numerous attempts of asking; “but what does that actually mean?”, “how does that work on a day-to-day basis?” to get an explanation from them along the lines of “we help our clients to use social media more effectively so they can raise their profile and win more business”.
Of course, it is not just media-novices who fall into the trap of thinking that complicated language or industry jargon makes them look clever. Last year Ocado included the following paragraph in a press release to explain a change in business strategy:
“The centre of gravity at Ocado Group has shifted from our heritage as an iconic and much-loved domestic pure-play online grocer to our future as a technology-driven global software and robotics platform business, providing a unique and proprietary end-to-end solution for online grocery, and an innovation factory, applying our technical expertise to adjacent markets and verticals.”
The howls of derision, particularly among journalists, were loud – just one example from the FT is linked here.
Preparing for media interviews: Not dumbing down is really dumb
Rather than impressing an audience, this sort of language merely alienates people. During training sessions, when we are helping to develop messages, participants sometimes question the use of simple language, as they feel it is dumbing down their work too much. In response I quote Albert Einstein who said:
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
The fact is that if your audience doesn’t understand what you are talking about, they will tend to think worse of you, not of themselves!
Make it real. Relate to something people recognise
When preparing for media interviews you could do worse than look to the example of Lord Browne, the former CEO of BP and an engineer by profession who, when asked what an engineer does, answered:
“Engineering is about creating practical solutions to humanity’s most pressing challenges – whether it’s building a bridge, finding new treatments for cancer or tackling climate change.”
Business guru Warren Buffett is another communicator who revels in the use of simple colourful language. For example:
- “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
- “If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes.”
- “Buy a stock the way you would buy a house. Understand and like it such that you’d be content to own it in the absence of any market.”
So, when preparing all your messages – whether for media interviews, presentations or simply for a networking meeting – think about the following three things:
- Mind your language! Keep it simple and avoid jargon.
- Make your answers memorable: use word pictures and metaphors which bring what you are saying to life for your audience and can effectively explain difficult concepts.
- Make your answers real: give examples which people can relate to so what you are saying becomes human and tangible.
For more advice on how to use simple and effective language, listen to my recent Webinar for the Institute of Directors ‘Bin the Babble: How to win more business with better communication’. (You don’t have to be an IoD member – just chose the ‘Not yet’ option when asked if you are a member.)
Here are links to some other posts on messaging and language that may be of interest:
Word Cloud – CC Gavin Llewellyn, Flickr
Lord Browne – CC Suzanne Plunkett, Flickr
Warren Buffett – CC Wikimedia
- Preparing for media interviews: don’t overlook the obvious question - February 4, 2020
- Interview soundbites: prepare in advance or journalists will feed you theirs! - October 11, 2019
- Why critics of media training miss the point - August 6, 2018