You’re a startup founder and you’ve finally managed to score an interview with a major tech blog.

You think: “YES! Here’s a chance to tell tens-of-thousands of people about my company.” Followed quickly by “I better not screw this up.

If you don’t think that second sentence, stop and watch this video:

“Say anything” should not be your motto with the media. You need a plan.

How do you develop that plan? In the PR industry, there’s a helpful set of tools called simply “media training”.

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OK, perhaps that’s not quite what media training is, but as most people’s ideas about PR come from the world of Hollywood movies like “Thank You for Smoking”, you can understand the confusion.

Here’s how I’d actually define media training:

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Before you get started preparing for an interview, there are a few important things to know up front.

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First, there’s actually an important symbiotic relationship between journalists and interviewees: You can’t get the word out about your company without them. They can’t tell a story without you.

You should also understand clearly the agendas on both sides and how those affect your approach to the story. Your agenda and the reporter’s agenda may be different, but that doesn’t put them at odds.

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Next you’ll want to have key messages in place, specifically for this interview.

N3Con - Lightning Media Training

Key messages, which Nathan and I talked about in Episode 4 of PR Pint, are a helpful way to organize your thoughts and makes sure you focus on the messages that best sell your business to your audience.

How do you put all of this into action?

N3Con - Lightning Media Training

  • Once you’ve developed your key messages, you’ll want to stick with them. Whatever the journalist asks, you should be able to incorporate something from your key messages into your answer.
  • Provide a unique point of view and say things that only you can say. If you tell people what they already know, you’ll be boring and never get quoted. Don’t be afraid to be bold and take a stand.
  • Keep focused on customer benefits and features; that’s what’s relevant. Technology is great, but unless you’re being interviewed by Electronic Engineering Times, don’t talk about technology for its own sake.

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  • When you answer questions, start with the conclusion first, and then support your answers with evidence. You’re not in a debate, you’re giving an interview.
  • In that same line of thinking, keep your answers short and easy to understand. In other other words, speak in relatively short sentences without commas. If your explanation isn’t clear, don’t worry. A good reporter will ask for clarifications as needed.

Sometimes reporters will ask questions in tricky ways that you should be prepared for. Know what to expect and practice answering these types of questions with your team.

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  • Forced Choice: When a reporter lays out just two possibilities and asks you to check, but many possibilities actually exist.
  • Bracketing: When a reporter tries to narrow down a number you don’t want to discuss publicly by playing a higher-than, lower-than game.
  • Hypotheticals: When a reporter asks you to imagine a potential future situation.
  • Asking for Ironclad Assurance: When a reporter asks you to provide absolute assurance on something that (as with most things in the real world, cannot be stated absolutely.
  • Leading Questions: When a reporter asks you a question that purposefully leads you to answer in a way that fits a specific story angle.

Bridging is an important technique that allows you to easily come back to your key messages, when a question isn’t quite on topic.

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Remember that journalists aren’t necessarily asking the wrong question to trip you up. Often it’s because they have a generalist knowledge and you are the expert.

Memorize these bridges:

  • Here’s what really matters…
  • A more important point is…
  • Let me give you some background on…

Sometimes the key to a good interview is making sure you don’t say too much.

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  • No comment might be something you hear in movies or on celebrity gossip programs, but it sounds more evasive than necessary. On a question of sensitive financial information, just say that your company does not share that information publicly.
  • If the question is about something personal and sensitive, just say that you’d like to keep the interview focused on the company. Rarely will a reporter push an uncomfortable line of questioning.
  • On the same topic, be comfortable with silence (it’s a very good tool reporters use) and with promises that comments will be off the record. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve had to drink, or what the reporter has said. Everything is on the record.

These are some of the basics of media training. I’ll give much more detail during my talk on Friday, May 27 at N3Con in Seoul. Tickets are still available online.