6 Tips for Interviewing with a Reporter

By Jenna Oltersdorf


In all my years in public relations, helping clients prepare for interviews has been the most common education I’ve provided. No matter if it’s a first interview or what feels like the millionth, brushing up on media training can be a smart move. During media training we typically spend a few hours sharing guidelines and doing mock interviews and, from those sessions, I’ve identified my top six tips for interviewing with a reporter.

Tip 1: Come prepared.
Know the reporter’s background. Spend some time getting familiar with what they’ve been covering recently and how your interview will help them as they prepare to write your story.

Have an idea of the questions you’ll be asked. It’s entirely okay to ask if the reporter is willing to share questions in advance of the interview. If they aren’t, then build a list of anticipated questions along with how you would answer.

Speaking of answers, prepare a list of three to five key messages, which you’ll use as often as possible throughout the interview. Think of key messages as sentence-long sound bites that help tell the larger story.

Tip 2: Arrive early.
Whether the interview is in person or over the phone, set aside an extra 15 minutes or so to allow time to gather your thoughts. If you’re headed to a live TV interview, double that extra time to 30 minutes (or more depending on the producer’s ask).

Tip 3: Be concise.
Mention your key messages as often as possible throughout the interview.Answer in a sentence or two where possible and then pause. Allow the reporter to catch up on notes, gather their thoughts, etc. Don’t feel the need to fill silence.

Tip 4: Never say “no comment”.
There is no other phrase on the planet that sounds more incriminating as “no comment”. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Offer to get back to the reporter with the facts they seek.

Tip 5: Don’t be nervous.
From swinging around in a chair to clicking a ballpoint pen, we all have nervous habits. Have a friend grab video of you giving a presentation to identify how you handle nerves … and then work to squash those habits.

Watch bridge words like “uh” and “so”. It’s okay to use them here and there, but not after every pause in a sentence.

Tip 6: Be helpful.
At the end of an interview, the reporter usually asks if there is anything else you’d like to add. This is a great time to bring your key message back into play.

Follow up after the interview to thank the reporter, but also offer additional facts, figures or information.