Last week, I had the pleasure of coaching many senior VPs in the Gulf region on the importance of being able to speak clearly and concisely in public and how to stay cool under the media spotlight. Despite this group of professionals being experts in their own field and achieving great success within their respective organisations, some of the basic skills of being able to deliver a high impact presentation that is going to persuade and influence an audience, still remained a challenge.

Of course, these skills do not necessarily come to any of us naturally. It is a skillset that has to be learned and then practiced regularly because there are no shortcuts here. It takes time, effort and the acceptance of critique in order to ensure that a speech is memorable, delivers the message and encourages the audience to take the necessary action.

Talking to the Media

If delivering a presentation to an audience is a challenge, then let us just think how much of a challenge it is when being asked to speak to the media.

Although every interview you do will vary depending upon such factors such as subject, format, audience and location, nevertheless, basic techniques on how to handle media interviews effectively, is a skill that needs to be learned.

However, with preparation and practice, you can become a very effective communicator. But most of us, (even Members of Parliament or US Senators), need some initial training.

When preparing for an interview, make sure you are fully aware of all the relevant facts including time, place, duration, structure and factual content in order to ascertain what exactly will be required of you. If possible, try to obtain a list of the questions that will be put to you and, most importantly, find out if the interview is to be a live broadcast, or recorded.

If you are a regular spokesperson for your company, than it is wise to make a check list of questions that you can reasonably expect, prior to the interview, together with, of course, the correct answers.

When speaking to the media, always remember they are looking for a story and you are there to present the correct facts!

Confidence is all important! When you act as a company spokesperson, make sure that you are confident in your knowledge of the subject you are required to talk about. That will help you to remain self-assured even if you are unexpectedly called upon to answer difficult questions.

Most of the VPs I have coached reported feeling very nervous in front of the camera. Their primary fear was that they might be unable to answer a specific question, for although thinking on their feet is a skill they might use every day, somehow in the presence of the media, they believed that words will fail them!

An effective interview strategy hinges on your ability to project Confidence, Control and Credibility.

• Confidence enables you to go into an interview situation as an equal and knowledgeable participant

• Control enables you to communicate your message clearly notwithstanding audience, interviewer or other interruptions

• Credibility enables your audience to accept the message you are delivering.

The concept of ‘control’ includes that of your demeanour, presentation content, choice of words and your message. Most importantly, it means taking an active role in steering the interview — creating and seizing opportunities to assert your own agenda, rather than being pulled along passively by the reporter or interviewer.

This strategy begins with serious preparation. Practice certainly makes perfect and having a clear idea of your message along with techniques for answering difficult questions is essential. ‘Blocking, Bridging and Headlining’ are some of the tools you will need to ensure that the message you put across is actually your message and not what the media want you to say.

Always be prepared and available to speak to the press or broadcast media. View every interview as an opportunity to establish/reinforce your message about your organization, product or issue. Be sure to identify your goals and key message points and repeat them throughout your interview.

Finally, don’t get so confused, angry or irritated by the questions. Always be likeable, open and honest.

It is certainly a privilege to be invited to speak in public and it is a journey where one is continually learning. Practice the skills and enjoy your journey.

— The author is a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international Stress Management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.