Media Interview Surprises! Part 3

How To Handle the Unexpected During Media Interviews

Life is filled with surprises. Some of them we love and others, not so much.

Today is the final installment of our 3-part series on surprises in the media. When you are out doing media interviews, I guarantee you will run into some surprises. Before we get started on this week’s edition, you can read last week’s here, and the first post here.

Surprise. My mind just went blank. What if you completely forget what you were saying, right in the middle of saying it? This is actually a very common question and I am surprised how many people share this fear. It is another reason why putting together and committing to memory those key messages will serve you. Even if you have a moment of forgetfulness, they will pop into your brain and you’ll be off and rolling again. Sometimes just telling the truth and making a joke of it will work. “What was I just saying? I was distracted by…” whatever, particularly if the culture of the show is fairly relaxed.

But the biggest piece of advice here is to really pay attention. Listen to what the host is saying to you, not so much what the voice in your head might be saying. Here’s an example a situation that isn’t an interview but demonstrates the importance of listening.

Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, we have a huge tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Portland. It’s a big deal with thousands of people coming down to watch this event, which is broadcast live on Portland media including local television. One year, I was hosting the event along with one of my co-workers. While we were live on stage doing our master of ceremonies duties, these huge fictional characters danced all around us, i.e., Cinnamon Bear, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Rudolph, etc.  John was excitedly talking on mic to the TV audience when he suddenly lowered the mic, turned toward me, looked me square in the eyes and said, “Jo, I just completely forgot what I was saying!”

Well, thank God I happened to be listening. I could have easily been thinking about what I was going to say next or any number of things, but instead I was able to raise my mic and pick up exactly where he left off. Talk about another strong shot of adrenaline.

The lesson: Listen to what the host is saying and pay attention to what is happening around you, not to what is going on in your head. This can help you stay on track as well.

Surprise: You’re triggered. Right before you started the interview you read an email or a text that triggered you. Yeah. This can happen. Again, you get a chance to work on compartmentalizing your feelings until the time comes when you can deal with them.

I notice in this day and age of social media and hyper connection that some people take a different approach to this and say that being real and authentic means sharing how you feel in any given moment. Your significant other just dumped you. Your doctor called and you got an unexpected diagnosis. You got triggered by something and maybe you just need to vent. But is that the best idea? The choice is ultimately yours, of course, and if it fits the culture of the show I am more inclined to say go for it, but remember: Would the audience be interested or is it just about you? If the latter, wait until later to take care of it.

Surprise: Your host or guest disappears. Internet connections drop unexpectedly. People disappear out of rooms and off of platforms. Things happen. You may end up stepping in and running the show until they return. They may not return if for some reason they’re unable to get back online. You are now the pilot. Depending on your comfort level, you could finish what you’re saying and move onto the other key messages going solo, or you can wrap up the show for the host. Do your best. Try to remain unflappable; people will love you for it.

Surprise: You were told one thing about the interview and something completely different is happening. The interview you thought you were going to do isn’t the interview that is now unfolding. I’ve seen this happen a number of times, particularly with on-camera interviews. Sometimes a show is worked out with the producer, and for whatever reason the host decides to go into an entirely different direction. Surprise! Hopefully the subject matter is still in your wheelhouse and you can just flow with it. How you handle this kind of situation will give you an immediate read on how you’re doing with regard to surprises.

Surprise. The host is asking you an irrelevant question. You have been asked a question that has absolutely nothing to do with your book or why you are there. In fact, your internal voice might be going nuts, saying, “Why are they asking me this question?” But you need to give an answer of some kind. This is where we get to see how flexible your mind is.

Remember the key messages I suggested you burn into your brain? As you begin answering the host’s question, your mind should be figuring out how to bridge this back to one of your key messages. Something like, “That is such an interesting question and while that isn’t my main area of expertise, I can say this…” and then bridge it back to what you want to say. This needs to be done elegantly and seamlessly so that things flow. The last thing you want to do is sound like a politician and not even attempt to answer the initial question. Give a response and move the conversation in the direction of one of your key messages. Doing this elegantly is everything.

Bottom line

Surprises happen. I’m not sharing these surprises and stories to worry you, but rather to help you get you prepared for anything. Let’s get you to the point where you actually look forward to surprises because the finesse with which you handle them speaks volumes about how you’re doing. All that said, you don’t want to invite any unexpected surprises, but you want to be able to stay cool when they do happen, because from time-to-time they will.

To your success!


P.S. Media training is the perfect antidote to surprises. Let me know if you want to discuss this possibility right here.

P.P.S. When you can handle those surprises, you too, will feel like dancing.







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