How to stay in control of an interview by Andrew Harvey

The media interview is one of the best – and most important – opportunities for getting your message across.

But to take full advantage, you must make sure the interview goes the way you want it to.

Here are nine ways to help you stay in control.

1. Prepare

You stand little hope of staying in control if you go into the interview unprepared. You need to prepare in two ways. First, decide which are the two or three most important messages that you want to get across. Keep them simple, and practise them. Second, anticipate the difficult questions and work out how you will tackle them. Don’t be taken by surprise.

2. Hit the ground running

Aim to get your key messages across in your very first answer. Not only will this put you in control from the start, but it will help you to pre-empt any potentially difficult questions and allow you to refer back to your answer (“As I said earlier…”). It will also reduce the risk of the interview finishing before you’ve had the chance to say what you wanted to say.

3. Bridge to key messages

Never wait for the interviewer to ask the “right” question – it probably won’t happen and you’ll miss the opportunity to communicate your message. Use the bridging technique by acknowledging the question and giving a direct answer and then using a bridging phrase (“…but the real issue is…”, “…don’t forget that…”, “…what’s really important is…”) to move on to your key messages.

4. Draw a line

The interviewer will often try to push you into difficult territory, asking you questions which you are not prepared to answer. Deal with this head on, and state clearly that you are not willing to go any further. Give a reason why, for example by explaining that you can’t give a guarantee or a black-or-white response, or that you’re not willing to give them a juicy headline.

5. Be honest

When you or your company has genuinely done something wrong or made a mistake, don’t issue blame, denials, or excuses. This will simply make the interviewer more determined to keep pushing you. Instead, be honest. Own up to the mistake you’ve made, give a genuine apology and promise to do everything you can to put things right.

6. Deal with interruptions

Interviewers often try to take control by interrupting you. When you are interrupted in the middle of a relevant reply, deal with it calmly but firmly and insist on finishing. Say something like ““This is an important question and I’d like to finish my reply…”. The audience will empathise with this and it will be difficult for the interviewer to refuse.

7. Know when to shut up

It’s not unusual for an interviewee to get themselves into trouble by trying to fill a silence, rambling on and saying more than they should. Just because an interviewer is saying nothing doesn’t mean you have to. When you’ve said what you wanted to say, stop. It’s up to the interviewer to keep the interview going, not you.

8. Use emphatic language

When an interviewer says something inflammatory or accusatory, don’t try to diffuse it with a gentle response like “I’m not sure I would agree with that”. This won’t convince anybody. Be assertive and unequivocal in your response: “Absolutely not” or “I totally disagree with that”. Leave no room for doubt.

9. Don’t lose your temper

One of the most important things to remember if you want to keep control of an interview is to keep your temper. If you lose it, you’ve lost control. Make sure you find the balance between being calm and composed and showing energy and passion.

Andrew Harvey spent 30 years presenting the main TV news programmes on the BBC, interviewing business leaders and politicians. He now runs media training company HarveyLeach.

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