Wusses welcome: why media interviews make you terrified and what to do about it

Some people love being in front of the camera. But as a media trainer of some twenty years standing, I’d estimate ‘some’ being about 5% of the population. The rest of us are bloody terrified.

There’s nothing like a camera or a microphone to reduce even the most confident and experienced CEO, army officer or top surgeon to a wobbling jelly of insecurity, and many will choose to cope with this fear by avoiding media interviews like the proverbial plague.

It won’t come as a blinding revelation to anyone that it’s not just the cocky loudmouths of this world who’ve got something to say, so unless we want to exclude the views of 95% of the population, we need to find ways of getting over the fear, so in an attempt to distill a full day’s training course into a single blog post, here’s what we’ve found has helped:

  1. Fear is normal. Your primitive instincts will kick in whenever they sense danger, and anything unknown or unpredictable falls into that category. That adrenalin rush is terribly useful if you need to run away from a saber-toothed tiger – not so much if you need to feel calm and composed in front of the camera. But recognising what’s going on is half the battle.
  2. You’ve earned your right to be there. Yes you. They’re not asking you out of charity. You have something to say and people want to hear it. 
  3. We want you to be a human being, not a robot. If you’re too slick and sound rehearsed, no-one’s going to trust you. And trust is the absolute most basic currency of the relationship between you and your audience.
  4. Talking of which, that’s what it’s all about. Not you and the journalist, you and the audience, so focus on what they need to hear, not what you want to say. Many people find it useful to picture someone they’re trying to influence and pitch it at their level.
  5. Don’t just wing it. In the words of everyone’s favourite cliché, fail to prepare and prepare to fail. There’s no way your panicked brain will be able to construct a great answer on the hoof, so be clear about your three most important messages.
  6. Speak like a real person not a walking, talking annual report. As Churchill said, short words are better, and he was no slouch on the inspiring front. Business-speak won’t impress people, it’ll just put them to sleep.
  7. Know your enemies. Where are you vulnerable? Who’s having a pop at you and how are you going to deal with that without getting defensive? You don’t want to spend the whole of the interview in their territory so have something good ready to pull the interview back on track.
  8. Say it out loud. Get a colleague to throw a few questions at you and practise out loud – not so that you learn your answers verbatim but so the sense of your key messages is cemented in your brain.
  9. Most journalists don’t wake up every morning wondering whose reputation they can destroy that day. It’s in their interest for you to give a good performance so don’t treat them as the enemy but as a way through to your audience.
  10. Your biggest danger is not saying the wrong thing, it’s being so bland that you end up with no-one listening. Use examples to make your point real and relevant so that what you want to say and what the audience ends up hearing are as close as they can possibly be.