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Public Relations Basics: Tips for Your First TV Interview

August is supposed to be a slow month for me, one where I catch up on long-term projects that I’ve managed to ignore for several turns of the calendar. This past August I was interviewed on television four times, a public relations coup. The four interviews — on Bloomberg TV, the BBC, CNBC and CNBC Europe — went off without a hitch. I was well-prepared, well-dressed and ready to tackle the subject at hand. Looking back on last week, here are some lessons that I tried to remember before my interviews, as well as ones that I discovered after the fact.

1.) Know your key messages. I prepared for the interview by compiling reams of data on the subject. Regardless, I needed to put that data into context and come up with a theme. Your key messages will only come across loud and clear if you don’t bore people by simply ticking off data. You want to elicit honest nods of understanding from the interviewers.

2.) When you’re mentally preparing for the interview, don’t ask for input from other people unless you absolutely feel that you need it. I had my key messages down cold, but they got muddled in one interview because some co-workers had planted ideas in my head about promoting our company. I would have been better off simply ignoring their suggestions and letting the discussion flow naturally.

3.) If you’re going to appear with other guests, understand their point of view. I was slightly ambushed when another person being interviewed had a message contrary to my own; I thought we were going to be on the same page. This caused a little defensiveness on my part, which actually worked to my advantage, eating up the other interviewees airtime.

4.) Wait for someone to tell you that you’re “clear” before standing up or taking the microphone off. In one case, the interviewer began chatting with me about an unrelated subject, leading me to believe that we were off-camera. The video shows me getting up from the anchor desk and walking away.

5.) A car service is a must. Most television networks will offer you transportation to and from the interview. Accept the offer if for no other reason than to alleviate the stress and cost of driving yourself or dealing with public transportation. Likewise, it’s important to remember that most interviews last less than five minutes, so you may be talking about a lot of travel time for a little airtime.

6.) Make-up is a luxury. Of the four interviews I gave, three were sans make-up. Most of the time guests will get a quick foundation to eliminate glare, but get good rest the night before so that you don’t look tired or worn down.

7.) Stay conservative in your dress. I wore a black suit for all of my interviews, and a tie for three of them. A sales guy at one of the stores I went to when I was looking for something new to wear tried to sell me on a yellow tie. Yellow is not my color. You don’t want your clothes to be a distraction.

8.) There’s no need to arrive early. When producers say “just get there 15 minutes ahead of time,” believe them. Cable news programs run on a tight schedule and the producers are professionals, so they know exactly how much time it takes to get ready. (Answer: about 45 seconds.)

9.) Inform important partners and customers about your appearance. If you want your media interview to be a public realations success, you actually have to spread the word.

10.) Always send a follow-up note to the producer, thanking them for the opportunity  and offering your services in the future.

11.) Watch your interview. Take notes about what you did right and what you did wrong so that you can improve the next time around. Ask some fellow public relations pros and other colleagues to critique your performance.

12.) Don’t stress out. You’re being interviewed for a reason. You’re not being asked to run the country or save the world, just to give some thoughts into a camera. Stay calm and remember to have fun.

The end results of August’s impromptu public relations bonanza? A lot of new sales leads, a profile boost for my company, some new press contacts, and some very valuable experience.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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