5. Interview skills in a proactive interview

You have secured an interview by proactively pitching a story. How do you give it its best shot at making it into print or online publication?

The news triangle

This is a good time to introduce the news triangle. Making sure that you give the most pertinent information at the top of your storyline, perhaps alongside an alluring statement that makes the journalist hungry for more information.

Some subject matter experts tend to give a lot of context first and end with the conclusion. Here, you reverse the pyramid. As discussed earlier, the traditional manner to write a headline (before clickbait became a thing) is to state the conclusion to the story, letting the reader skim past the story if it is of no relevance to her. Journalists still think like this and write the story in this manner, most of the time. This lets editors cut from the bottom if stories are too long for print; they may still edit down content even if it is used in digital outlets.

Three great statementsListen – then answer

Once you have an attentive journalist on the phone or sat in front of you with a microphone or pen in hand, let them pace the interview along with their questions. Some people tend to talk without breaks as soon as they are given the opportunity; do not do this. Answer as briefly as needed to give context to the question. If you ‘highjack’ the conversation, the journalist may not get the bits that will entice them to write a story in the end.

If you have a very complex storyline, for example on a new technology, you may ask to give a brief intro to give the journalist context first. But brief is the key word – make room for questions as soon as possible.

Speaking for TV or radio/podcast

If your interview is going to be televised or perhaps used in a podcast, you need to be aware of the need to edit. Make sure that your sentences are understood even if the questions are edited out and avoid statements such as ‘as I said earlier’ during your interview. Craft strong, short statements, deliver them and wait for the next question.

Of course, if the format is more longform such as a podcast, you can elaborate more in the answers. But always keep your statements and key points in mind to ensure you do not wander too far from your message and thus, perhaps diminish your relevance.

Post-interview fact-checking and follow-up

If you sense that a journalist is new to your line of expertise and may need assistance getting facts right, you can offer a fact and quote check of the final article. Some journalists offer proactively to send articles through for a check to ensure that they got the story right. Some decline outright – which is why you prepared so well before the interview to make clear statements.

If you do get the opportunity, resist the temptation to suggest major revisions to make yourself or your company look better! Only correct facts (by suggesting revised language in a comment) or misheard quotes. Make sure to hand them back as soon as possible to let the journalist meet any deadlines.

No coverage?

If you do not see coverage within the expected timeline, it is OK to follow up to see if the journalist got what they needed. Sometimes, a breaking story has put your content on the backburner; they may need a gentle and upbeat inquiry to take the story further. Sometimes an editor has nixed the story, this especially happens to freelancers.

If still nothing happens – you may not have delivered sufficiently on your storyline and messages. Back to the drawing table!

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