8 Interview Mistakes

Interviews are the most important tool for telling your story to the media.  And the most dangerous.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been discussing some of the most common mistakes people make during interviews.  Here’s a list summarizing eight of the most common ones:

  1. Being unprepared:  Without question, the most common mistake people make when talking to reporters.  Sometimes it’s because they’re overconfident – executives who are good speakers and think they can wing it, for example.  Sometimes it comes from not realizing the importance of being prepared.  And sometimes it happens because the person being interviewed doesn’t know what s/he wants to say.  You should know what your objective is (why you’re talking to the reporter), who your audience is and what your message is before beginning any interview.
  2. Overselling the story:  Reporters interview people every day who oversell their stories by being too optimistic and refusing to acknowledge obvious problems.  Think about the people you know who do that when talking to you.  You don’t believe them.  Reporters won’t believe you, either, if you oversell your story.  Do it too often and your credibility will be ruined for good.
  3. Saying too much:  If you have more than three messages (including one primary one) for any given interview, you aren’t focused enough.  Throw too many messages at a reporter and the one you care about may not be the one that ends up in the story.  And failing to stick to your message is a formula for saying things you shouldn’t.
  4. Saying too little:  There are times when it’s perfectly okay to remain silent when reporters want to talk to you. But when the public health and safety are at stake, you’ll be expected to disclose information and answer reporters’ questions.  The stronger reporters and the public feel that you owe them an answer, the more likely you are to pay a price for remaining silent or limiting what you say.
  5. Speaking hypothetically:  Reporters love to ask hypothetical questions to get people to say more than they should.  Any time a reporter asks you a question that includes a variation of “what if,” alarm bells should go off in your head.  Don’t speculate or respond to the hypothetical scenario described by the reporter.  Stick to facts you know.
  6. No line in the sand:  If you change your position on a topic or situation to fit what’s convenient on any given day reporters will learn to distrust you.  Be consistent in speaking your truth, even if that feels inconvenient at times.
  7. Being combative:  We’ve all seen news stories where the person being interviewed becomes angry and argumentative.  Have you ever seen one where the person being combative won the argument?  Me, neither.
  8. Being dishonest:  As obvious as it is, it requires repeating.  You’re entitled to a point of view and to make the case for your point of view.  Most reporters won’t fault you for that.  They will fault you for being dishonest.  Being dishonest includes being misleading by saying something that may be “true” but is designed to mislead.  One lie can destroy your credibility forever.

That’s my two cents’ worth.  What’s yours?  Next week:  More mistakes people make during interviews.


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