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22 February 2024  •  Katrina Shute, Principal of Training and Capability

The biggest mistake people make when being interviewed by a journalist

The Woolies CEO’s disastrous interview this week highlights the biggest misconception most people hold when being interviewed by a journalist. One simple hack from former Network Ten Anchor and now Bastion Reputation’s Principal Media Trainer Katrina Shute will ensure the talent remains on message (and in the room) whenever they’re in the interview hot seat.

It’s the end of a tough week for Brad Banducci, the newly resigned Woolworth’s CEO who now infamously walked out on an ABC interview, delivering every journo’s dream – when your story becomes the story.

But this television gold moment highlights a huge mistake that most people make when they’re being interviewed - they forget who they’re talking to.

The talent (industry speak for the people we interview for our stories) often comes into the interview thinking they are just having a conversation with the journalist. They think the journalist will ask some questions, and they will answer them to the best of their ability. This is the WRONG approach to enter the interview process.

You are not having a conversation with the reporter, you are delivering your KEY MESSAGES to your audience. The journalist is the conduit to your audience.

Why is this important to keep in mind?

When you are “having a conversation” with a journo, it could go anywhere, most likely in the direction of the journo’s choosing. You are a pawn to be led down any garden path. If the journo becomes aggressive or rude in their line of questioning, you are likely to respond in kind, becoming angry, frustrated and losing track of why you were there in the firstplace. In a worst case scenario you may toss the toys and do a runner… and we know how that works out.

Alternatively, when you go into an interview with a clear goal of delivering your key messages to your audience (who are the people watching, reading or listening to your interview), you are essentially controlling the direction of the interview. You may not be asking the questions but you are responding in the way you want to, which ensures your audience hears what you came to tell them. If the journo gets nasty, and embarks on an aggressive line of questioning, who cares, you’re not talking to them. Keep your audience in mind at all times and remain calm and in control. 

Remember.. how would you like your audience to see you…is it irritated and defensive or likeable and proactive. The choice is always yours.

There are several techniques we use in Media Training to ensure the talent feels confident and in control during the interview process, and the correct preparation will always be central to success, whether you’re a one person business or a large organisation.

Corporations are increasingly understanding the very real implications of reputation as a key business risk - never more so than when a media interview goes south. As well as the correct training and prep, leaders need to consider strategy, values and culture before jumping in the hotseat. Being open to be coached and being coachable is critical.

While every media engagement should be viewed as an opportunity, and it’s never advisable to respond with “no comment”, executives need to understand the role of strong leadership communications when dealing with journalists. Remembering what you’re wanting to achieve and who you are talking to will be the number one key to ensuring the interview doesn’t result in a massive clean up in aisle 5.

Katrina Shute is the Principal of Training and Capability at Bastion Reputation, get in touch at katrinas@bastionreputation.com.au


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