I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rick DeBruhl, an Emmy award winning broadcaster and one of the nation’s leading communication coaches. Rick has written a book on how to coach people that are going to be interviewed by the media, and I felt that many of those tips would translate over to candidates that are preparing to be interviewed for a job via a video platform such as Zoom or Skype.
In addition, many professionals find themselves fielding requests for interviews and are at a loss as to how best to prepare. Rick’s book, The Insider’s Guide to Media Training: 99 Tips to Survive Your Interview in the Digital Age is packed full of useful suggestions.
Why did you write the book?
A media interview – like a job interview – is an opportunity. It’s a chance to boost your organization or build your personal brand. And like a job interview, it’s important to focus on what story you have to tell. During my TV career, I’ve walked literally thousands of people through their first media interview. Some did great, but often times they really didn’t know how to make the most out of the experience. As with a job interview, that media interview carries great opportunity but it can also do damage if it’s not done properly. We wanted to put together a book that was simple and easy to read which would help people with any video interview.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when they do an interview?
They just wing it. They don’t sit down beforehand and put together a list of important points they want to make. In the book we talk about WWYHB – What Would Your Headline Be? Headlines are very short, attention-grabbing phrases that both convey information and entice someone to read further. Think about how your story would be summed up in just a few words. That helps you to focus on your key points. Once you’ve done that, focus on the story you have to tell. What are the important points that back up the headline? Your job during the interview is to make sure those points are made. A little preparation goes a long way. That includes checking to ensure that your internet connection is strong, and that the lighting and camera angle is flattering.
Also, in this day and age of 24/7 information coming at us from all directions, people have a tendency to think in terms of ‘sound-bites’. Give some thought as to what you want the listener to take away from your content and create some bullet points in advance, in order to drive your points home.
The title mentions “the Digital Age”. Why is that different?
It wasn’t that long ago that the only media requests came from TV, radio, newspaper and the occasional magazine. Now we have podcasts, blogs, vlogs and social media interviews. And the number of opportunities is just astounding.
Just as with job interviews, a key difference today is that so many interviews are being done with online platforms like Zoom or Webex. Once frowned upon by most reporters (because the quality was so poor), they’ve become the norm during COVID and will likely stay here in the future. This means that the person being interviewed is responsible for how they look and the quality of their picture.
What is the most important thing that someone should do prior to granting an interview?
While traditional media interviews are pretty straight forward, new media is much more complicated because ultimately, they all have a specific agenda. That doesn’t mean the agenda is evil. It may just be a way of looking at a particular industry or current events. Sometimes, however that podcast host or blogger merely wants you to reinforce their perspective. That’s great if you agree, but could create a confrontation if you don’t. That’s why, just as with a job interview, it’s important to do some homework before your get put on the hot seat. And while the job interview is private, your media appearance is very public. By simply granting an interview to a questionable organization, you may inadvertently set yourself up for critique by aligning with a group that does not represent your values.
How are podcast interviews different?
Podcasts have longer formats that rely on a lengthy conversation between the host and guest. But while many podcasts last between 45 minutes and an hour, research shows that the average listener only hears the first 22 minutes. That means you need to make your key points early on in the program. It doesn’t mean you have to jam them in where they don’t fit, but you need to find ways to pivot from one topic to the messages you want the audience to remember. And when it comes to the podcast hosts, there’s a wide range of skills. Some are experienced journalists or conversationalists while others are fumbling from question to question. Be prepared in case you have to drive the story lines.
Biggest misconception about the media
I often joke that local news reporters don’t have agendas, they have deadlines. Having spent plenty of time in the newsroom, I haven’t seen much agenda pushing. Most of the time reporters are just struggling to get the interviews done so they can meet their deadline. What some people perceive as a slant is usually a function of how much the reporter could learn before turning in their story for print or broadcast. That doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions, but the various editors involved work hard to make sure the story is unbiased. I’m always amused when people tell me that the media is slanted. The first question I ask is “What media?” While Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow are both on TV, they’re much different than a local news reporter. Hannity and Maddow aren’t journalists, they’re talk show hosts. They’re paid to have opinions and take positions. Local news reporters have a different job. They have to gather facts and put them in a usable form that is, hopefully, as unbiased as possible. Blogs and podcasts are completely different and often have specific viewpoints to push.
You co-wrote with Kevin Riggs. How did the two of you get together?
Kevin and I actually met in college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. We both worked in local news and then transitioned into communication work. He continues his TV work as a political commentator while I’m the voice of the Barrett Jackson auctions on the A&E Networks. Since we both do media training, we often talk about the various issues and thought it would be fun to put some of the concepts into a book.
What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who just found out they’re doing an interview in a few minutes?
First, think about the message you want to convey and the best way to say it. Even 60 seconds of prep will make a big difference.
Second, answer honestly. You don’t want to say something that will come back to haunt you later on. Make sure the facts and numbers you use are legitimate.
Finally, relax. Most interviews are friendly affairs. The reporter came to you because you’re the expert. Often times they’re happy to let you rephrase something you might have said. They want you to look and sound good so their story looks or sounds good. Just take a deep breath and focus on the questions.
The Insider’s Guide to Media Training: 99 Tips to Survive Your Interview in the Digital Age is available on Amazon:
Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is President of International Search Consultants, a leading executive recruitment search firm since 1999. Ann can be reached via email at
Rick DeBruhl is a 40-year veteran of TV and currently works as a communication coach. He can be reached at www.rickdebruhl.com.