Beating the Interview Jitters

If your business takes off, or is particularly innovative in its approach or product offering, you may attract the attention of your local media, or even the nationals. While some people may relish the opportunity to grab their 15 minutes of fame, for others, being in front of a microphone or Dictaphone is the equivalent of being put into a pit filled with hundreds of spiders.

The thing people fear the most is that they won’t do themselves justice, or that they will be misrepresented. They will try to allay their fears by planning every word in advance. They know they are being exposed to a wide audience and are worried about being caught on the hop.The irony is that the more people try to control the course of an interviews, the more likely it is that their worst fears will come to pass.

There are a number of traps that you may fall into. For fear that you won’t have enough time, you may give one-line answers to questions posed by the journalist. This means that the journalist doesn’t have enough material to showcase the best aspects of your business. Or you may be so full of talk, again out of nerves, that the qualities that make your business tick become submerged in a torrent of words.

It might seem like a good idea to ask for a full list of questions in advance of the interview, but that can backfire. If you script everything you say, the interview will sound stilted. It can be scary to relinquish control of an interview to a journalist, but they do know what they are doing and it’s not going to be in their interest to misrepresent you. The journalist needs the freedom to ask you a comprehensive range of questions in order to bring out the aspects of your business or project which make it interesting to listeners and readers.And besides, you are already an expert on your business. The journalist is unlikely to be asking you questions that aren’t already included your business plan, annual report or brochure.

The key ingredient of a successful interview is to be yourself. This may seem like trite advice, but it is you that the journalist is interested in. They wouldn’t be approaching you unless they felt you had something interesting to say. Imagine that you are waxing lyrical about your business to a potential contact at a networking event, or to your best friend in a cafe or pub. During those encounters, you probably sound natural, witty and passionate. This is the kind of interviewee journalists love and the kind of interview you can be if you trust yourself.

If the thought of being exposed to a large audience brings you out in a sweat, remember that the audience is never as large as you think it is. In fact, particularly during radio interviews, you’re talking to just one person. One person in a studio, one person in the car. One person listening to you with half an ear while they break up a fight between the kids and iron a shirt. All you need to do is address your remarks to the person immediately in front of you. This creates an immediate, intimate feel and lets the audience feel that they know you and your business.

There are ways that you can prepare for an interview without sounding scripted. If you know you have an interview coming up, write down the points you would like to get across, your goals, what you’re offering, likely outcomes. This will help you pinpoint what you’d like the interview to achieve. You can ask the journalist for a general indication of the areas they will be covering. Even if you haven’t been scheduled for an interview, you may be rung for an immediate quote, so it’s always good to have your info to hand.

Interviews offer you a chance to show off and to talk about the things you most love doing. They are a great form of free publicity and will generate buzz about your business or product. At the very least, they offer a diversion from the daily business grind. With the right preparation and a common-sense approach, they should be an enjoyable experience.

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The Power of the Press Release

The image of the gung-ho, ambulance chasing journalist, with nicotine-stained fingers, is an enduring one. The most respected journalists of our time are those who have been willing to go down to the trenches to give us a sense of history unfolding. Yet the role of journalist as front-line reporter is increasingly being eroded. As time goes on, it is becoming less and less necessary for journalists to leave the comfort of their office to bring us breaking news.

The reason for this is varied and complex. It partly relates to the relentless march of technology. News is now being constantly piped into offices through newswires, RSS feeds and increasingly through social-networking sites such as Twitter. The tightness of deadlines can increase the temptation to pull news from the wires. With journalist’s wages plummeting, it often doesn’t pay journalists to invest the time in finding a fresh source for every story. Even if a journalist has taken the time to unearth a sizzling story, advertising pressures can squeeze it off the front page.

The press release has now become a ubiquitous presence in newsrooms and serves the news up to journalists on a plate. Journalists have an ambiguous relationship with press releases. It can feel like they’re cheating their way to a news story, or copying someone else’s words. But when a deadline is looming and there is a glaring space in the middle of the page, a ready-made angle and a number leading to a guaranteed source can be seductive.

So where are journalists getting their news from? In some ways, there has never been so many sources for news. The Internet now plays a central role in the newsgathering process. And it’s not just dedicated news sources that bear fruit. Google is a handy tool for researching quick facts or checking the spelling of a name. Social networking sites can yield useful contacts. I recently read a technology article where the journalist had chosen her interviewees exclusively from her pool of Twitter contacts.

Whether journalists care to admit it or not, other media outlets can be a valuable source of news. Producers of radio current affairs programmes often pluck out articles from the paper with an interesting subject matter and contact the source mentioned in the article for an interview, or else a local expert with similar expertise. They can put their own spin on the story, shaping it to the requirements of their medium.

Creating a directory of trusted sources is still a common way of gathering news. I write a fishing column for The Irish Skipper and over the past two years, I have built up a small roster of people that I can ring to get the views of fishermen on the ground about the issues affecting their industry and about local issues. Using a trusted source is the best way to gather exclusive information and to ensure that it is presented accurately.

Journalists themselves are experts in their own field and may already know people who have the specialist information they need to cover a story. In writing an article for Writer’s Forum about the role of books which teach creative writing, I was able to call upon the two tutors of my creative-writing course. I knew that their views would complement each other and having a personal relationship with them ensured I could get the maximum information from them.

In a time of slashed budgets and seven-page advertorials, most journalists are still determined to gather fresh news wherever possible. They find it still worthwhile to do the extra research for background information that will give their story a unique stamp. It’s easy to be a competent journalist within the confines of a newsroom, but the ability to cultivate sources and to go out of your way to find compelling information help journalists stand above the herd.

Final thought: The press release is the most reliable way to get yourself in the news. A well-written press release which contains the main thrust of your story in the first paragraph will attract the attention of journalists. It will also be a powerful tool for free publicity. If it gets into the news pages, it will generate buzz around your business and tap into the power of word of mouth.

The Write Angle

My eyes do their own thing. They race around my head like Formula One cars frantically trying to lap each other. I imagine they may one day take off and fly around for a little while before they return to their sockets. I see the world in broad brush strokes. Outlines are blurred and the fine details which add texture to the world for sighted people are missing. People don’t tend to realise that there is a whole twilight world between sight and blindness. I fall into the category of the subsighted. In other words, I am nearly sighted, but not quite.

This may seem inconvenient or frustrating, even distressing, but it has given me a rich vein of humour to milk. Journalists are told to develop a field of expertise. At the start of my career, a wise old journalist encouraged me to carve a niche by writing about my twilight world. Since then, I have striven to describe the world of the visually impaired in a realistic way, debunking the tragic victim/flawless hero stereotypes perpetuated by the media.

I have done this in two ways.  First of all,  I have delved into a form of gonzo journalism, writing humorous articles about my bumbling adventures. The articles initially appeared on human-interest websites and publications for the visually-impaired, where I received a positive reaction. The one that moved me most was from a woman with the same level of sight as me, who said one of my articles had given her the words to tell her convey to her blind husband exactly what she could se. This spurred me to bring my writings to a wider arena and soon enough, they started trickling onto the pages of The Irish Examiner newspaper and classical-music station Lyric FM.

The second avenue I exploited was that of general features giving the visually-impaired angle on everyday subjects, such as sport and the arts. Editors appreciated the fact that I could give a fresh perspective on a tired theme. I could get my teeth into meaty features about the ways visually-impaired people engage with computer technology and how to create more accessible cities.

Working the VIP angle hasn’t always been ideal. Ultimately, it’s a narrow niche and there’s only so much you can say about it. And once you’ve painted yourself as an expert in one area, it can be hard for editors to recognise that you do have the versatility to cover other subject areas.

But in general, writing articles about life as a visually-impaired person has proven to be the most rewarding aspect of my work. I feel privileged to be able to shine a light into corners of the visually-impaired world which others can’t reach. I want people to think about visually impaired people in more realistic ways. If one person thinks as a result of my articles, ‘Hang on, I never thought of it like that,’ I’ll feel I’ve done my job.

Final thought: Your business has its own unique angle. If you take a little time to figure out what that is, people will be interested in hearing about it. Editors will always prick up their ears at a new idea, so it’s worth spending a little time brainstorming to see what helps your business to stand out. Write down all your thoughts and keep eliminating the less relevant ones until you are left with one line which describes your business in a nutshell. If you are more visual, think of your business as a building. Is it a sleek, high tech apartment, or a mellow manor house. Thinking of your business in that way will help you decide which words best fit your business.