The tables turned: My first interview

The tables turned: My first interview

As a reporter and editor for 10 years, I was an expert at meeting people, asking questions, taking notes (and sometimes photos) and getting them to open up and talk about themselves and/or their organizations.

Then during my first year as an official PR pro, I was in the backrooms, giving advice and preparing communications for our organization’s members, the public and the press. I even occasionally still got to act as a reporter for our various publications.

But I had never sat behind the desk and faced a reporter walking into my office to interview me – until recently.

I’ve always said that for any organization, if you interact with the public at all, then your job is a PR job, and as the executive director of a small creative placemaking non-profit, that’s become doubly true. So I knew this day was coming.

The funny thing is, though, I had never understood why some people I’ve interviewed got so nervous. Nor did I really understand why they would come and buy so many copies of the paper when their story came out.

Now, I do. And even though I prepared and felt ready, there were still some butterflies and still some things I wish I’d done differently. Below, I share my three top tips and three things I wish I’d done better.

First up was the newspaper interview.

That was OK. I knew more or less how it would go. There was the notebook, the pen and the iPhone set to record. I was comfortable and we had a good conversation – the hallmark of most good interviews.

Having a photographer come later to take my picture as I did “natural” things like “type” important emails and “read” over economic impact studies or “stroll” through the Arts & Cultural District … that was a bit weird. But still, it went well.

The TV interview, however, was a completely new experience.

Previously, the only interaction I’d had with TV reporters was jostling for space and access in not-always-so-friendly competitions. But lo and behold, they just nice people with big cameras…cameras that are hard to ignore and not look at! That was the hardest part, trying to talk and have a good conversation while being fully aware that every movement, every facial tic, every awkward pause or “um” or mispronounced word could very well end up on the 6 o’clock news. Still the reporter got me through it with no problems.

And, yes, the day the story hit the paper I rushed out to buy up copies for my files in the office and at home. And, yes, the day the story aired I rushed home to watch and DVR it. I was excited and relieved that both went well – thanks to quality reporters and thanks to my preparation.

Here are my three main tips:

1. Have a plan. Review your organization’s mission and any main points you want to highlight.

2. Double check your facts and stats. Make sure they’re right.

3. Dress the part. Wearing a favorite shirt and tie combination is a confidence booster.

Here are three things I wish I’d done better:

1. Don’t ramble. Be excited about your program and give all the important information, but if you talk too much you risk contradicting yourself, confusing the reporter, messing up your best quote and losing the reporter’s interest.

2. Hone your sound bite and be able to rephrase it. Really this goes back to #1. You don’t want to sound like a commercial or come across as unable to say anything else, but being able to get that point across quickly and easily is a necessity – especially for TV.

3. Prepare for the camera. There’s no other way to get used to it except to practice. Even if you set up your phone, practice being recorded while talking to somebody else. Practice speaking slowly and enunciating. Practice your body language and facial expressions. Practice, practice, practice.

And here’s a bonus tip. I hope it’s something I did well in both interviews because it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve come across. Don’t perform. Just be professional. Just be yourself.

Matthew Whittle is a former reporter and editor with 10 years of newsroom experience for community newspapers in Virginia and North Carolina. Next, he was a digital media communications specialist for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, the South’s leading state employee association. Now, he's the executive director of a small non-profit. In his spare time he seeks to help bridge the gap between public relations professionals and the media. You can find him on Twitter @mwwhittle.

Photo: Interview via Shutterstock

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