Being interviewed live on television is harder than it looks. Journalists and pundits may make it look easy – but if you’ve not done it before it can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you are planning to rely on your natural charisma, be warned, even the most extroverted of characters can crumble before lights and a television camera if they’re a novice.
First things first you need to decide why television is part of your Public Relations strategy. As an entrepreneur, business owner or freelancer without a ton of advisors and media training, there needs to be a reason for you to do a TV interview and it needs to be a good investment of your time.
Reasons people go on TV
- To comment on current affairs – you may have expertise in a field and be asked to comment on a particular policy or initiative
- Direct interview – you could be asked to participate in a direct interview for a feature or documentary about a topic you know about
- In-studio discussion – you may be asked to take part in a discussion with others in a studio with an audience – e.g. BBC Question Time
All of the above can be good for raising your profile. Especially if you manage to gain a regular slot somewhere. This is competitive but can happen with perseverance. That said, if a regular slot is your aim then starting your own podcast or YouTube channel may be a better option – although you would need a plan to build your audience because it wouldn’t be ready-made like with television. Whatever you decide, learning how to interview well is a good skill that will build your confidence no matter what channel you decide to use.
Some questions to ask before deciding to do a TV interview:
Is the interview going to raise your profile?
A lot of people love appearing on TV just because it’s TV. That’s fine if you’re a celebrity or well-known in your field. But if not, there needs to be a clear incentive for you to go on television and it needs to be one that is going to outweigh the potential disadvantages. Preparing for a TV interview can be time consuming, so it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons beforehand.
Is it the right channel for you? If you get an offer to appear on television, have a think about your target audience. Does the channel have the right type of viewers? If it’s a general news programme, it could be good for wider brand awareness or viewing figures could be so big it’s worth doing no matter the subject.
Is the topic you’re discussing controversial and do you care if you get a hostile reaction on social media? Some people don’t – in fact appearing on well-known television shows can lead to success even if there’s initially a bad reaction. It all depends what your goal is, but make sure you understand the full implications of what you’re doing.
Are you the right person to appear on TV?
Some people are just better at speaking and getting their point across. If you don’t enjoy speaking and are quite introverted it’s could be better to leave the media appearances to someone else. Don’t do it to yourself if it’s not your strength, unless speaking on television is something you’re really passionate about. Remember that television is harder than radio because you visually appear on the screen so have to consider your body language rather than just your voice. Radio could be a good way to test the ground so if you’re not confident maybe start there.
How to get on TV
Here’s how you can increase your chances of getting on television:
- Sign up to tools such as HARO, or Response Source, follow hashtags such as #journorequests on Twitter. You can use these tools to find out what journalists are looking for and respond as and when
- Follow producers of programmes you want to appear on on Twitter. Send them a carefully worded message (if their messages are open) and introduce yourself and say you’d be interested in appearing on their show in the future. Explain what you do and mention that you’ve been following the show for a while and feel you could add a new perspective. News shows can operate off of the ‘pantomime TV’ model, where one talking head is set up against another. If you see someone on one week and want to offer a different perspective, you could contact the producer and explain you have another view and would like to come on the programme to give your opinion.
- Create news: Why not create the news yourself? If you feel strongly about a topic, write an article about it, share it widely and then pitch it as a talking point.
- Get an agent: Probably one to bear in mind for later down the line.
How To Prepare For Your First TV Interview
So now you’re happy with the channel, subject and confident enough to do the interview, here’s how to prepare for the TV interview.
Watch previous programmes
You will need to prepare by watching as many previous versions of the programme you’re appearing on as possible. This way, you’ll also understand the journalist’s style. Is it jokey, serious, calm, relaxed? What questions have they asked in the past that’s thrown an interviewee off-guard? If the interview is pre-record you may feel less nervous, but if they ask a question that catches you out it will likely still be included – especially if it is their style to catch their guests out.
Quiz the producer
Here are some questions to ask the producer:
Is anyone else appearing on the programme? If so, research them.
What questions will be asked? You may not get a full breakdown, but ask anyway.
How long is the interview? You need to know this to time your answers accordingly.
Is it live or pre-recorded? There’s a big difference between a live broadcast interview and a pre-record.
- Live – in a studio or on location. Live can be scary, but you know that your message will get out there in full without being edited. A studio has more of a personal feel, but if you’re out of the country or far away from the studio it’s likely to be down-the-line. Be aware that the latter can be quite impersonal, so it’s important to make extra effort to stay natural and relaxed.
- Pre-record – This could be a full interview before the broadcast or it could be a 20 second soundbite in a wider report. There’s no guarantee all you say will be included, but one benefit is that pre-records are less pressurised.
It can also be worth pointing out what you’re not willing to talk about – although being journalists, they may ask anyway. Best not to be too particular, but if there’s a topic you’re absolutely not willing to talk about set expectations – although be aware that the interview may get cancelled.
Work out which role you’re being cast in
Why are you being interviewed? Here’s a list:
- You’re the expert on a particular subject.
- You offer balance on a topic.
- It’s a feature about you or your business – unless you pay for this, this will be in another context – like a case study for a wider story.
- Responding to allegations – let’s hope not but you never know.
- Are you the pantomime villain? If it’s a controversial topic you may be cast in the ‘baddy’ role. Proceed with caution.
Get your key messages clear
You need to have your key messages ready to go. They give you a baseline as to what you want to convey in the interview – no matter the questions you’re asked. You can also refer back to them if a tricky question comes up.
- Write your key messages down on a piece of paper.
- Integrate them into the wider context of the interview.
- Keep things simple so you can absorb them easily.
- Make a note of the most likely questions you’ll be asked and how you’d ideally like to answer the questions.
- Think about how you’d answer any tricky questions they ask and how you’d link your answer in with your key messages.
If you’re asked something you don’t know say so. “I’m not sure about that but can get back to you with further figures” goes further than pretending you know the answer when you don’t.
Practice on screen
Set up a Zoom call with someone beforehand as a practice run. It’s important to remember that television has a habit of exaggerating every gesture. It’s a skill to be able to convey yourself as natural without going overboard. By doing a practice run, you’ll be able to tell where your weak spots are – do you play with your hair when your nervous? Smile too much? Move your hands around? Again, it’s not about being a robot, but appearing human without distracting from what you’re saying. You will also need to think about what you wear and what image you want to convey. But don’t stress too much, perfection isn’t necessary. The main goal is to say what you need to say in the allocated time and handle yourself well.
Watch yourself afterwards
Once you’ve completed the interview, don’t shy away from analysing your performance. Even if you don’t think it went well, make sure you watch so you’ll know better for next time. Get a neutral opinion because you could be being too hard on yourself. Unless it was the most terrible performance ever known (unlikely) remember to share it across all social channels and on your website. Check the feedback you got on social media and in the media as well to keep in mind for future interviews.
Television interviews are just one way of getting your message out to millions. These days there are many more channels that can help you get the same effect, but you will need to build audiences from scratch which is a talent in itself. If you want a ready-made audience, broadcast media can work for you but it’s important to be aware that it takes a lot of effort and time to get your first interview so it needs to be the right decision.