Practicing for a media interview is one critical area of preparation in effective media training. It requires attention to your voice, your facial expressions, and how you hold yourself. It’s about being aware of your presence, and how you come across as a speaker, as a spokesperson, and as a leader.
Based on more than seven years of experience doing media training, I have seen the benefits of practice within an interactive workshop setting. In a safe workshop setting with clear ground rules, people are able to fully immerse themselves in practice mode, becoming less self-conscious as they do so. Being able to receive immediate feedback and coaching, and try new approaches immediately, is one of the advantages.
The practice techniques I share can be easily applied to other situations such as giving a speech or doing a job interview. It can also help you deal with a difficult situation that requires you to express yourself clearly and confidently. Those situations all require effective communication skills, although it’s not an interview with a journalist.
Before you begin practicing, always begin by capturing a baseline of your current ways of communicating. In the privacy of your home, you can do that by videoing yourself talking about a topic for 1 minute. Do this before you’ve made any changes based on feedback.
I refer to practice in an earlier post on effective media training as a critical deep dive technique to use when preparing for a media interview. Practice is a key part of preparation.
Practice takes performance to the next level
Practice is part of effective media training. High-performance athletes and sportspeople know firsthand the benefits of practicing regularly to improve and accelerate performance. Simulated practice methods and rehearsals are also used as a standard part of professional medical training and education.
If you’re still on the fence about needing to practice for your media interview, let me give you a concrete example. Remember the story about Michael Jordan? Arguably the world’s greatest basketball player of all time. But did you know he didn’t make his high school or college basketball team? In his own words, Michael Jordan said “I wasn’t that good…but I thought I should have been on the team.” The following year, he barely made the team.
But what did Michael Jordan do? He poured all his effort, his heart, and soul into practicing basketball until he was good enough. He clearly believed he was meant to be the best basketballer in the world. He believed that even in the face of early rejection. The rest is basketball history, as they said.
Anything worth doing is going to take effort and time and practice to do. Muscles don’t build and grow on their own. Doing a weight training program consistently, with rest breaks in between, builds muscle. Just like Michael Jordan had to do with his basketball, you need to create a practice routine when no one else is around.
That’s how you’re going to ace it. There’s a particular way to practice if you really want to walk into the room feeling prepared. Let me show you how to practice effectively for speeches and media interviews. Grab your speech notes or your prep material for your media interview, and let’s get started.
Schedule a quiet space for practice
For effective media training, unless you schedule time, it often doesn’t happen. This is a time to remove distractions and find private time and space where you can practice without interruption.
Also consider asking a small group of friends, colleagues, or family whose judgment you trust to play the role of audience and interviewer. Their feedback can be very helpful, particularly if you don’t have a coach to do this practice with.
All the world’s a stage,William Shakespeare (1564-1616), As You Like It, The Seven Ages of Man
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
Use a mirror and video camera
Some people may find this very intimidating. But if you want the best results, I strongly recommend that you use a mirror and your video camera to record yourself speaking and delivering your responses.
Do your practice in front of a mirror. Why? You’ll gain an awareness of how you stand or sit and your facial expressions. Use the mirror to notice what you do and how you respond as you speak and interview. So you get to know your own body language and self-expression as you’re speaking.
Often people aren’t aware of how they look or come across, and whether it might be distracting to your audience. You’ll be surprised by what you discover about yourself. Don’t skip using the mirror in your practice unless you want to be less informed in your practice. Often we have a tendency to wrongly assume that we know how we come across when we speak, until others give us feedback.
What do you use the video for? For the same reason as the mirror, except the video is particularly important for two purposes related to broadcast interviews, actually interviews in general. By videoing your practice, you can hear how your voice is captured on audio and visually. You see how your body posture is captured on video, and make changes if it doesn’t sit right with you.
Using your cellphone video works fine. Tip: play with different video settings, camera angles and talk near the cellphone mic, if you don’t have a separate mic attachment.
Practice speaking out loud
When you practice, it is not a silent practice where you’re working things out in your mind. No, no, not at all. The days of silent motion pictures are well and truly over. You need to hear yourself speaking out loud, as you would in conversation. This is a practice where you listen to your voice out loud. You’ll hear your voice’s tone, volume, and pitch. You want to make sure that you’re speaking clearly and loudly enough that you can be heard. No whispering. Your video recording will capture your voice and it’s important you review your recordings.
Listen out for those times you are using filler words such as ums and ahs. Replace them with pause and silence. Get comfortable with silence. Simply pause and stop speaking instead of saying a filler word, even if it means you have to listen to silence. There’s nothing wrong with silence. Treat it as your friend. If you let silence exist in your space, when you pause, you will stop using meaningless filler words like ums and ahs. It’s very distracting for your audience.
Often in a media interview with a journalist, there may be silence and a pregnant pause between questions. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to fill that silence if you’ve already said what you wanted to say. Simply stop talking. Otherwise, it’s tempting to say something you never intended or wanted to say in the interview, just because you’re so uncomfortable with silence. Learn to love silence, even in a media interview. Understood?
By props, I mean the items you need to support and enhance your practice and performance. This can include your anticipated questions and answers, speech notes, and whatever else you need to prompt you and help you feel supported. It could be that you prefer to sit in a favorite chair when you practice, for example.
If you need ambient music quietly playing in the background, remember you won’t be playing ambient music during your interview.
If you’re a smoker or drinker who needs to calm your nerves, don’t drink alcohol or smoke during your practice session. Those are not the kinds of props I’m talking about. Nerves are part and parcel of the human experience.
Create rituals that calm you
Try reading or doing something that inspires you, makes you smile, laugh or motivates you to forge ahead, before you begin your practice. Experienced speakers and media-savvy people are not exempt from nerves. But usually, they have created rituals and relaxing activities like listening to their favourite music beforehand. They’ve learned to feel the fear, and the nerves, and do it anyway.
Create your own rituals and things that take you to your happy place and bring you courage and calm, before you do a media interview. Sometimes you might find you still get nervous and anxious, that might just be how it is for you. No matter, if you are as prepared as you can be, feel the fear and do it anyway, and enjoy the experience. Learn from it.
Ask for feedback
Practice rehearsals with colleagues and friends or family you trust can yield invaluable feedback. But only if people know that they’re not there to just give you praise. It’s great and important to have cheerleaders. But for practice purposes for effective media training, you need critical thoughtful feedback. Be brave and ask for feedback. You could ask them to write it down on a piece of paper, whatever works best for you as long as you actually read the feedback.
You don’t have to take it on board, but it is wise to evaluate whether it’s valid or not. If it’s valid, take the feedback as a gift and use it to improve your communication skills.
That’s it for now. Use these practice tips for effective media training. Practice like a pro so that you can ace those interviews. Whether it’s with the media, in a job, delivering a speech, or dealing with a difficult situation, doing a practice rehearsal is a very wise step before your big day.