I spoke with a candidate recently who described sitting in front of a microphone about to face her first interview as a political candidate. Her palms were sweaty, her mind had gone blank and she was about to face an interviewer who wasn’t likely to go easy on any politician. Finding a way to master this aspect of your public life can be very difficult but is completely necessary part of your political campaign strategy.
Luckily, the skills required don’t differ from those required by all people in the media spotlight. Here we will go through some simple tips to make sure you perform in front of the microphone.
As it turned out she did an 'OK' interview, not a car crash (see below for that!), but far from inspiring. More than anything she lamented the fact that it was such a missed opportunity to get her message across clearly to the electorate. So, let's make sure the same thing doesn't happen to you. But first, here's what not to do!
The first thing you have to remember when going into an interview is that you are there to deliver a message. That message is to be split into three points and those points need to be practiced so you can clearly communicate them. Anything more than three points and people won’t remember them, any fewer and you will start to sound like you are repeating yourself, or have nothing to say.
If you are talking about how the current administration is not doing a good job, then you might split it into the three points: the administration is not listening to voters; the administration has created a problem where there was none and; this is how the system needs to change with a new administration. Now you know what you are going to say and wherever the interview goes, you know that these are the points that you wish to come back to.
This is something that all interviewees find difficult. When you are nervous it is easy to ‘freeze up’ and sound a bit wooden. The reality is that the listeners or viewers are going to be listening to your passion more than the things that you say. For this reason, it is important to have practiced your three points and be able to communicate them with real belief. If you can do this, people will respond positively to you, even if they don’t agree with you.
The first question rule
Interviewers have probably done a little bit of research on the topic that you are discussing and may or may not have done some research on you. They are likely to have been given questions by their production team and will then react to what comes up in the interview itself. The little-known fact is that your response to the first question is how you will get to ‘take control’ of the interview by inserting all three of your points in that response. The interviewers will probably take your cue (assuming you deliver it in a clear and compelling way) and let those three points lead the interview as a whole.
Ok, put away the pens, phones, rubber bands or anything that you can be fidgeting with. Sit up straight, face your interviewer, and put your hands on your knees or rest them lightly on the table in front of you. This will avoid any background noise, stop you looking nervous, and help you to focus on the task in front of you.
Your interviewer is your friend
Firstly, remember your interviewer is your peer, you are on an equal footing with this person, you are neither speaking down to her nor intimidated by her. In this way, you will avoid sounding either superior or afraid to the listeners. The effect of this is that you will also be speaking to the audience as if you were their peer and this is going to have a positive effect on the way they receive your message.
The three audiences
You have three distinct audiences to speak to in an interview and they all require a different message or attitude. Firstly, you need to speak to your core supporters. They want to hear your message and feel ‘that’s my guy’. Secondly, you need to speak to undecideds or potential supporters. They need to be convinced by your argument but also by your attitude and feel, ‘this guy really knows what he’s talking about’. Thirdly, you will need to speak to the broader audience including your competitor’s supporters. They will need to hear a credible speaker that might place some doubt in their minds about who they support.
Practice your three points as if you were addressing each of these audiences and get comfortable making the points with this in mind. This will allow you to change the way you make the points as you begin to repeat them through the interview.
Say it again
You will need to repeat your points to have the best chance of them being heard by the audience. Don’t be a passenger in an interview, lead it yourself and come back to the points that you want to make.
Using unusual language or retreating into jargon is another mistake we make when we feel under the pressure of an interview setting. Try to use common language and phrases that everyone will understand when making your points.
The three-minute prep
Before an interview starts, take three minutes in the green-room, or wherever you are to just calm yourself and focus on the three points you want to make. Turn off your phone and see yourself making the points confidently.