What is your #1 tip for a nervous entrepreneur about to talk to a reporter for the first time?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
1. Leave the “Ums” at Home
Using “filler words” — ah, um, like, so — will hurt your credibility as an expert in your field. Try to become more aware of the situations in which you use these filler words, and try to replace them with pauses. So many people are uncomfortable with pauses, but used correctly, they make you sound more confident and credible.
2. Stay on Message
Before I started my company, as a business journalist, I regularly interviewed top entrepreneurs and CEOs. To avoid being nervous or providing a bad quote, be sure to create bullets of your talking points and the story you want to tell. “Winging it” leaves far too much room for error. If you don’t have a good answer for a question, don’t feel compelled to answer it.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
Know your business and industry inside and out. Come up with some canned responses for likely questions. Practice saying them so they don’t sound canned. Pretty soon you’ll realize most reporters ask the same things, and you won’t be nervous anymore.
4. Avoid Sarcasm
Until you are comfortable talking “on the record,” it’s best to avoid sarcasm. You may think the reporter understood what you “really” meant, only to be horrified by what a jerk you sound like when the story comes out. Keep it straightforward until you get a feel for what reporters pick up on and can ensure you can get your meaning across.
5. Be Disciplined
Remember that the reporter is after a story, not trying to tell your narrative the way you think it should be communicated. Be judicious and thoughtful in how you answer questions, and be wary of how things you say might be taken out of context. Stick to your key points, and remember that it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
6. Admit Your Stage Fright
Most of the time, reporters want an interview to go well — they want great quotes and information for the pieces they’re working on. If they know you’re nervous, they can make things a little easier to ensure they’ll get what they need. You can’t always use this approach — if you’re being interviewed about something the reporter thinks has gone wrong, it won’t fly — but it usually helps.
7. Genuinely Like Them
It’s Psych 101, but if you like someone, they’ll probably like you back. Obviously, this is easier said than done (it depends on the reporter), but if an entrepreneur goes in expecting a battle, it’ll be tough to win the reporter over.
8. Know Your Numbers!
The media loves stats and numbers, so know your industry statistics and trends. However, reporters many times are strapped for time and may have not have done the homework. So if you start off with some strong numbers to support your position, this will reinforce your stance as an industry expert, as well as be impressive and set the tone for the conversation.
9. Speak in Sound Bites
It is easy to stray from your messaging goals when a reporter gets you chatting. A common mistake is to water down great news with other updates. Try to loop conversations back to messaging goals whenever possible so your feature doesn’t become a back story in your own article. You can think of speaking in sound bites: everything printable should still fit your message, even out of context.
10. Join Toastmasters to Practice Your Speaking Skills
The more you practice speaking in front of others, the more comfortable you’ll be when it’s time to speak to reporters or other important groups. I highly recommend joining a local Toastmasters club to improve your speaking skills.
11. Talk to Someone
The biggest trouble inexperienced interviewees tend to have is that they try to answer questions from a reporter as if they are talking to “everyone.” The outcome tends to dilute their answers and leave them sounding insecure, unsure or uncertain. Instead, imagine talking to one reader (even a past version of yourself) who wants to learn about what you have to say.
12. Practice for VCs
If you’re prepared enough to take questions from a venture capitalist, you’re prepared enough to talk to a reporter. As the interviewee, you can control the interview by knowing the facts about your business and providing the most interesting things to write about.
13. Understand What They’re After (It’s Not You)
A reporter is not interviewing you to catch you in a “gotcha” moment — he wants to write a story about a topic on which you have expertise that his readership will find interesting. The better the quotes and information he gets from you, the better his story will be.
14. Be Direct
Be prepared, prepared, prepared. Know the topics that the interview is going to cover like the back of your hand. Be truthful, professional, direct and interesting and have something meaningful to say. If you accomplish that, you’ll be amazed at the benefits of PR. Being recognized as a leader in your field by the media can easily impact the amount of incoming leads you generate.
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