Don’t be Caught like a Deer in Headlights

Facing a media interview can be daunting but there is no need to be caught like a deer in headlights.  Preparation is the key to minimising or eliminating the element of surprise.  Here are five tips to help you to be interview ready.


  1. Set your objectives. Decide beforehand what you want to achieve out of the interview.  It doesn’t matter if you instigated the interview or if a journalist approached you.  If you plan to go ahead, you need to first determine your objectives, otherwise it will be a nice story for the media but a complete waste of time for you.
  2. Determine your key messages. You only need 1-3 key messages, no more or you will just confuse your audience. These messages must be concise, clear and readily understood.  Think of it in terms of if you only had one opportunity, what would you say to your audience.  This is essential preparation before any interview.  If you don’t have your key messages ready, all you would have achieved is answering the journalist’s questions.
  3. Prepare for the worst. Don’t be fooled into thinking you will only be asked the questions you want to answer.  Think about the questions you fear will be asked and plan your answers ahead of the interview.
  4. Do your research. Before you are interviewed, the journalist will no doubt have researched you and the organisation you represent, but do you know who they are?  Before jumping into any interview do your research on the media outlet and the journalist, in particular, read articles they have written in the past.  It will help you their reporting style but more importantly, it could give you a good insight into how the interview might play out.
  5. Practice questions and answers in front of the mirror, a camera or a colleague.   It is a case of perception versus reality – this is the only way you will ever truly know how you are going to come across in an interview.


Unsure if you are ‘interview-ready’?  Get help from a professional.   Media training will not only help you build interview skills but it will also give you the confidence you need to tackle any interview.

Interview Tips Part I: Body Language

From your head to your toes, your body language can say a lot about you and it may not be what you intended.  Nothing will help you lose your credibility faster than when your body language does not match your words.  When this disconnect occurs the audience don’t know what to believe – your words or your expression.

Unfortunately, most people don’t realise this is the case until they see themselves on video.   Here are some things to look out for when doing an interview.

Nodding – nodding can provide reassurance to the person you are talking to, that you are listening and agree with what they are saying.  However, nodding when someone has just started talking as well as excessive nodding can have the opposite effect.  It is distracting to the person interviewing you and its not genuine.  How can you agree with a statement or question before you hear it out?  Instead, maintain eye contact, listen intently to what they are saying and then formulate your response.  Nodding is completely unnecessary and mostly annoying to the person speaking.

Eye contact – it’s not a tennis match nor a staring competition, it’s a no brainer but do you know how many people find it difficult to maintain eye contact during a conversation?  Maintaining eye contact is essential and the reverse can be disastrous.  If you look off to the side, look away or look anywhere but at the person speaking it says ‘I’m lying” (even if you are not).  It’s a guaranteed way to lose your credibility.   Ever asked your child a question and they looked away?  You know they have something to hide and it’s the same with adults.  Stay focused on the other person while they are speaking and while you are responding.

Smile – but only when its ok to.  Smiling can be friendly or smug…. It is ok to smile but it has to be appropriate to the conversation and at the right moment.

Lip biting – biting your lip says you are fearful or anxious.  However, did you know that biting your top lip can prevent a sneeze coming on?  It’s the only time you should do it but avoid it on all other occasions.

Touching your face – touching any part of your face can mean dishonesty or deceit.   Its also distracting.  If you have an itchy nose, bad luck!  This is a no-go zone.

Arms – don’t fold them.  Yes, its comfortable.  Yes, you have heard it all before.  Yes, it can be seen as confident but it can be just as easily confused with defensive behaviour.  It is best to avoid it altogether.  Leave your arms down and put your hands in your lap, relax.

Hands – this is about balance.   Hand gestures are ok as long as they are not so over the top that they become distracting.  Open hands can be inviting.  Use them if you need but whatever you do don’t point your finger, ever.

Posture – sit up straight but remember you aren’t a surf board.  Relax your shoulders so they aren’t sitting up under your ears.  A powerful posture is open and inviting.

Interview Tips Part II: Using Your Voice

In Part I talked about body language and how it can impact your message.  How you use your voice is equally important. Whether you are being interviewed on television, radio or even by a print journalist, your voice can add credibility or take it away.   Hesitating, false starts, shaky, croaky, high pitched, loud – these can all contribute to an interview fail.   Below are some ways you can use your voice to achieve credibility and believability.

Posture – your posture impacts your voice.  For example, slouching affect voice projection making you seem weak and unsure. If you want to sound believable and for the audience to understand you, your voice needs to be strong.  Sit up straight and allow the expansion of air into your lungs.  This will help you speak clearly and without the need to ‘gulp’ for air.

Pace – pace is important.  Too slow and you will come across as unintelligent or condescending.  Too fast will make your words undecipherable and the audience will most likely tune out.   Choose what I call a ‘radio voice’ – the pace at which a talk back radio presenter speaks which is somewhere in the middle.

Pitch perfect – your voice has over 300 different pitches.  Too high will make you appear nervous, too low and no one will hear you.  If you aren’t sure how to pitch your voice then match the tone of the person interviewing you.  This will help build rapport and ensure you are not seen to be underreacting or overreacting to questions.

Tone – there is nothing that loses an audience faster than a monotone voice.  If this is you, there are some exercises you can do to help.  Singing out loud is a great way to improve your tone if you choose the right songs (not Leonard Cohen in this case!).  Also reading a children’s book.  I get a lot of my clients to read Dr Seuss (to children or just out loud).  The true impact of this book will only work if you have a varied tone.  This type of practise may sound over the top but it will definitely have the desired impact.

Pause – build pauses into your answer, particularly when you want to emphasise a point.  It allows people to ponder what you are saying before moving onto the next topic and your message will be more impactful.

Clarity – speak clearly and pronounce every word.  When nervous, its easy to drop the endings of your words.  Slow your speech enough to pronounce every syllable.   Tongue twisters can help – try: “What time does the wrist watch strap shop shut?”  If you speed you will sacrifice the clarity of your sentences.

Confidence – be confident.  Do you “um” and “ah? Most people don’t know they do until they record themselves speaking.  It’s a great idea to do this and play it back so you know for sure.  One method of correcting this behaviour is to pause longer before you start speaking enabling you to gather your thoughts and what you want to say before starting to speak.

The Top 5 Mistakes Spokespeople Make

The objective of any media interview is for you a company spokesperson, individual and brand to be portrayed in the best possible light.  However, there are some really common mistakes that spokespeople continue to make and once the damage is done, you can’t erase it.


Mistake #1 – Not Preparing

You wouldn’t walk into a meeting without being prepared so why do this for a media interview?  Without taking the time to research the media outlet and prepare you are allowing yourself to walk into the firing line without any protection.  What ultimately happens is you will find yourself scrambling at the first difficult question.  It will throw you off your game and spiral out of control with your confidence waning as the interview progresses and your reputation in tatters  Remedy:  Putting time into understanding the media outlet, their audience, their angle and your objectives will ensure the best possible outcome.

Mistake #2 – Not Understanding Your Audience

This is a common mistake on two fronts.  Firstly, agreeing to do an interview with an outlet that doesn’t reach your audience and secondly, not speaking in a way your audience can relate.  I have seen so many interviews that have completely lost the audience because the spokesperson has used jargon or answered a question loaded with facts and figures that make people’s eyes glaze over, completely losing your audience (example – John Hewson, the cake and the GST interview – google it if you are too young to remember this one!).  Remedy: If the media outlet does not reach your audience, find one that does.  If your messages are figure heavy then find a way you can express this so the audience can relate for example, ‘you can get this for the price of a weekly cup of coffee’.


Mistake #3 – Not Developing Your Messages

If you don’t take the time to prepare the key messages you want to get across in the interview, then don’t bother doing the interview.  What is the point of answering a raft of media questions if you don’t get your own messages across?  The journalist may get what they want but you have completely wasted your time.  Remedy:  Work on 1-3 key messages, rehearse and find a way to weave them into your answers.  Most politicians are masters at getting their message across regardless of the question – you can too.


Mistake #4 – Thinking – I won’t get asked that question

This almost happened to a client of mine.  I asked him to work on addressing a negative issue that was in the limelight years before but had been resolved.  My client said, “Don’t worry, they won’t ask about that, it happened ages ago”.  With a live interview on a television morning program I just couldn’t let him take the chance.  So, I convinced him that it wouldn’t hurt to rehearse an answer just in case.  The interview went smoothly but they did ask that question and my client handled it well, maintaining his credibility and putting the audience at ease. Had he not prepared, he would have lost all credibility.   Remedy:  Developing a ‘worst-case-scenario’ line of questioning and devising ideal responses, is another good way to ensure you don’t become a deer in headlights and you maintain your reputation and credibility.


Mistake #5 – Winging it

You wouldn’t be able to do your job without some education or training. The same goes for an interview.  Even the charismatic CEO who is a ‘natural’ in front of audiences can find themselves fumbling through an interview at the first tricky question or using body language contrary to what they are saying. A poor performance in an interview can do irreparable damage to an individual’s or company’s reputation.  You can’t risk it, unless you are prepared to lose it.  Remedy:  Get a professional media trainer to take you through the hard questions, getting your messages right and advising you on technique such as body language and voice projection.   It will be the best investment you make in yourself and your organisation.

Positive exposure through the media is, because of the in-built credibility of the media itself, of much more benefit than paid advertising and costs virtually nothing except time.  Invest wisely.


How (not) to apologise – Oil, Uber and Ball Tampering

Everyone makes mistakes.  In fact, human error is possibly one of the biggest causes of business failure today.  How you respond to an error can be the difference between disruptive and disastrous.

A poor apology can do further and irreparable harm to your reputation.   However a well-constructed apology delivered genuinely will not only minimise reputational damage but may even raise your profile in a more positive way than ever before.

Let’s first look at how not to apologise.

CEO of BP, Tony Hayward was responding to a massive oil spill in March 2010 and delivered one of the worst corporate apologies I have ever heard.  His words were:

We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I want my life back.”

The next day he had to ‘apologise for his apology’ but the damage was done.


More recently we have seen some rippers in the news.  Let’s take the Stefanovic brothers’ apology after being caught talking about their colleagues on loud speaker in an Uber.  In his apology Karl Stefanovic said:

 “[Peter and I] talk a hundred times a day and hardly ever about work.  But we did, and the conversation was recorded. And we are sorry. I was angry with myself at first that I could be so stupid… I’ll be taking cabs from now on.”

Most commentary around this called it a ‘carefully constructed apology’ but I disagree.

Karl said he was angry that he could be so stupid – because he said those things or because he got caught?  And saying he will be ‘taking cabs from now on’ isn’t an apology.  It is like saying “I’ll continue to talk about my colleagues but it won’t be in an Uber in case I’m overheard”.”

Maybe Channel 9 and its audiences are more forgiving but it doesn’t sound sincere at all for me.


On the flip side (excuse the pun), former Captain of the Australian Cricket Team, Steve Smith, has apologised for his role in the ball-tampering scandal.    He issued a full and heartfelt apology accepting full responsibility and demonstrating genuine remorse.

“I don’t blame anyone. I’m the captain of the Australian team,” Smith said. “I made a serious error of judgment and I now understand the consequences. It was a failure of leadership. Of my leadership.”

Not only will Smith be forgiven but media reports are claiming Smith should “expect a standing ovation when he next walks out to bat in an Australian uniform”.

Whoever scripted that one deserves a pat on the back.

So what can you do to make a good apology?

Be credible

The apology has to come from the person who made the error or the most senior person in an organisation where a company issue has occurred, not read out by someone unrelated to the issue.  The apology must have meaning and demonstrate genuine remorse in the content and the delivery.

Take responsibility

Own your mistake, take responsibility and acknowledge the damage or hurt caused.  Apologise for what you did, not just the effect it had.  For example, don’t say “we are sorry if we offended anyone” – it implies you may not have offended anyone.  In addition, you haven’t apologised for the actual error.

Don’t make excuses

“It was out of my control” or “I didn’t know this was going on” will simply not cut it.

Take action

Commit to further investigation, more resources or training, stricter standards – whatever it takes to fix the problem, reduce the risk or prevent the situation from ever occurring again.

Timing is everything

Don’t sit on an issue hoping it will blow over. There is so much wrong with that approach.  Respond as soon as possible, preferably within the first hour but only if you have all the facts.  A prompt response is recommended before speculation and rumour take over.

Use the right channels

If it broke on twitter, apologise on twitter but don’t limit your apology to one medium.  You need to go where the banter is in order to respond effectively.

Seek legal advice

If the error could result in legal action then seek the advice of a professional.  I would recommend running any statements by a lawyer as a precaution.


If you do it right, not only will a good apology set you on the right course again but can potentially see you in a better position than when you started.  You may retain and even gain new customer loyalty in the process.

What Journalists Want

If you want to know what gets a journalist buzzing then read on. If your story doesn’t meet at least one of the criteria featured, go back to the drawing board.

Conflict – When you go home tonight and watch the news I guarantee that apart from the fluffy good news piece at the end, just about every story in the news is likely to contain some element of conflict: war, politics, big corporate vs little guy, murder, violence, cheating and the list goes on. Conflict makes news, that’s a fact. But of course, we don’t want our story to be one of conflict so keep reading for more ideas. 

Access to good spokespeople – an emphasis on ‘access’ and ‘good’. Journalists have deadlines and quite often they are hot on a story which will stop dead if the spokesperson is not available. Journalists want access to good spokespeople – that’s people relatively high up in the organization, have significant knowledge of their company or the issue at hand who have good media interview skills. If you put forward the story and you don’t have access to a good spokesperson, it’s highly likely the story won’t even get written. If it’s a story that the journo is investigating and you don’t have access to a good spokesperson, then you are just sending that journalist to your competitor. 

Exclusives – journalists want exclusives or first exclusives but only if it’s going to help sell their paper or get more viewers/listeners. If it’s a story that is likely to be in a section at the back of a newspaper, it’s probably not important enough to negotiate an exclusive. 

Revolutionary/change – something that will change the way we think or live. Enough said. 

Celebrity profile – go on, try to open a women’s magazine that doesn’t feature a celebrity, I dare you. OK so Miley isn’t our desired spokesperson but find the right one (and ensure they are the right fit) and you may just have a winner. 

Good quotes – if a quote from a person high up in an organisation is compelling enough, the media will run it. Think predictions, trends, breaking news…… 

Great photographs – how many times have you stopped to look at a story because of the photograph? People will notice a visual first, then headline, then text. 

Road Testing – (current affair style specials) X brand washing powder vs Y brand washing powder. However, to put this forward you must be confident with your product. 

Proximity/ Local angle significance – Let’s use an overseas event as an example – if there is an Aussie involved you can guarantee the story will get covered here. Think local which could be suburb, city, state or national. 

Warning – this could happen if…… 

Timely – use what is currently in the news to propel your story further.

Apply at least one of these to every media pitch to give you story more news value.


Why your reputation matters now more than ever

So you think you have a squeaky clean reputation and are immune to negative talk and speculation?  Pushing out positive messages like a well-oiled machine will assist your company in being seen in a positive light but have you thought about what isn’t in your “control” such as comments by others about you/your company, posting of photos you didn’t mean the world to see or private information that ends up on the internet?  It isn’t just what you post that forms your reputation but what other people post about you.

You could think about it the same way you would go about making a purchase decision.  You might read information that the company has written about a product but then ask others or go to public forums and online reviews only to find that there are faults and frustrations with the product and how it performs.  As a representative we can say all the positive things you like but from a public perception the public is more likely to believe a stranger online.  Why?  Because a third-party endorsement has far more credibility than what a person or company says about itself.

There is nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide and what goes online stays online. We all watch and cringe as a video goes viral of someone doing something that will not only tarnish their reputation now but stay with them forever as a label they will want to forget.  And it just gets worse.  They lose their job, their place on the sporting team, their relationship breaks down and others start distancing themselves.

In the words of Warren Buffet: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.  If you think about that you’ll do things differently”.

So how can you ensure you continue to be perceived in a positive light?

Apart from avoiding doing something really stupid – with or without the influence of drugs or alcohol – there are steps you can take to manage your reputation online.

There are three key actions to live by:

Listen and monitor what is being said online about you / your company.  Do an online search online looking at news, images and videos.  For a more comprehensive search there are a load of paid solutions for monitoring social media but to kick off set up a Google alert in yours or your company’s name.

Create positive content consistently.  Do things that help build your reputation – writing expert articles, sharing good and relevant content and get better at mastering media interviews.

Address negative sentiment.  So someone has made a negative comment on your /your company’s Facebook page?  Before you hit that delete button, think about how you can turn the situation around.  That negative comment may be a common thought so countering it with facts may not only sway the person who wrote it, but others who are reading it and thinking the same.  Nothing smells more than a company trying to hide bad reviews.

It is always good to have a crisis communications plan ready to roll out in the case of unforeseen issues.

In all cases, whether it is your professional online networks or personal online networks there is only one rule – Do not say or do anything that you don’t want to see in print (or on TV, or online or…..).

So what is your reputation worth?  Would you spare ten minutes a day to manage your reputation?  Because that may be all that is required to stay on top of how your reputation is tracking.

Five things you must do in a crisis

A crisis can impact your company in a variety of ways and should normally pass, but the critical question to consider is will your company’s reputation survive.  These sure fire tips will help you navigate through a crisis and emerge with minimal harm to your reputation.

1. Prepare!
Do you honestly believe in your working life nothing bad will happen that could put your company or its reputation at risk?  The difference between a reputation being destroyed or preserved will be in the preparation.  A crisis management plan and a crisis communication plan are both essential to manage a crisis and continue your ability to deliver.  When the crisis hits there is no time to sit down and write a plan of action.  Preparing plans in advance will mean you can concentrate on managing, and where possible containing, the crisis.

2. A good spokesperson
A poor performance in the media can do considerable – sometimes irreparable – damage to your organisation, your professional standing and goodwill with stakeholders and audiences.  A crisis will be challenging enough to deal with at any one time, so having a media spokesperson who holds a senior position in the business, has knowledge of the crisis and the company’s policies AND be able to handle the tough questions, is vitally important to how this crisis will play out in the media.  The spokesperson should have undergone media training to handle these situations (but not 5 minutes before the story is breaking).

3. The essential holding statement
When ‘it’ hits the fan you must be ready to talk.  This is not the time to bury your head in the sand.  What you say first in a crisis sets the tone for the entire ‘event’.  You must be ready to come out with a holding statement at the very least.  This means acknowledging the problem, demonstrating compassion and talking about your course of action ie what steps you are taking to resolve the crisis.  The holding statement must end with the promise you will be back in touch with the media/public at a defined time to deliver further information.

4. Staying in the limelight
Ok so this doesn’t sound so appealing when you have a crisis on your hands but if no-one has the facts then speculation fills the gap and this could be your worst nightmare.  Your next few deliveries to the media/ public need to be updates of what you know, what you don’t know and what further action you are taking.   The more co-operative and visible you are, the more likely you/your organisation will be viewed as trusted regardless of the situation.  You only have to picture a company /spokesperson going to ground to understand what message that sends.  Remember if the media can’t get the story from you, they will find someone else and that may not be the perspective you want featured.

5. Be honest, open and transparent
People will forgive human error, mistakes or even poor judgement but they will never forgive a calculated lie.  Enough said!!
See the process through and in rebuilding your company’s brand after the crisis, adhere to the above tips to retain or win back stakeholder confidence.