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December 21, 2012

Media Tip: How to Deliver a Better Phone Interview

A guest post from Brad Phillips, author of The Media Training Bible.

In 2010, Toronto Mayor-Elect Rob Ford agreed to an interview with As It Happens, a national radio program that airs on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (and elsewhere). But when the reporter called at the scheduled time, Ford was busy coaching a youth football game.

He proceeded with the interview anyway. Unsurprisingly, he was unfocused, simultaneously yelling at children and telling the reporter about fiscal restraint. He interrupted the interview numerous times and made his points inarticulately, until finally admitting he was "being distracted." The disastrous interview generated unnecessary bad press for his campaign.

Mr. Ford's example may be an extreme one, but the underlying dynamic isn't. Since we all use phones on a daily basis, telephone interviews can seem deceptively easy--and that familiarity can lead spokespersons to treat them less seriously than they would an interview conducted in an unfamiliar television studio.

That's a mistake. Think about it this way: If you were tasked with giving a speech at an event packed with 10,000 people, you'd probably take great care to craft every word. But would you give the same level of attention to a phone interview with a community newspaper that has 20,000 readers? Many people don't--but they probably should.

Here are three ways to give a better phone interview:

1. Eliminate distractions: Don't sit at your desk, where incoming emails, phone calls, and office visitors can easily distract you. Use an empty conference room, and tape a "Do Not Disturb--Interview in Progress" sign on the door.

2. Click, clack, repeat: For print interviews, listen for the sound of typing on the other end--you'll hear it when you say something that intrigues the reporter. That's your cue to slow down and repeat what you've just said to make sure the reporter has time to capture every word.

3. Stand and deliver: Many people truly do think faster on their feet. They also tend to project more authority when they stand, likely because pacing helps them use their nervous energy in a more productive manner. Use a high-quality headset so you can gesture instead of cradling the phone to your ear, and deliver your words with the same level of energy you would use during a broadcast interview.


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