???Obama Says Afghan Policy Won??™t Change After Dismissal??? and ???Gates Tightens Rules for Military and the Media??? are just a couple of the recent newspaper articles that reflect high-ranking military officials??™ opinions to the war in Afghanistan. Whether your opinion as a Field Grade officer in the U.S. Armed Forces agrees or disagrees with the current Administration??™s policy on this issue, it is YOUR responsibility to relay this policy to the media if confronted for an interview.
The future senior-ranking military officials are those of us who are Field Grade officers today. As an individual rises through the officer ranks, he/she may be approached by a reporter to conduct an interview on a domestic or international situation. The purpose of this essay is to show the importance of how solid interviewing skills can affect perception of the military when dealing with the media.
I am going to cover three of the most common techniques for a successful interview. First, I am going to address how to assess the interview request. During this phase, I am also going to address what an interviewee should do once the interview is agreed upon, the importance of establishing a rapport and how to set a good image. The second technique will be the actual conducting of the interview. Lastly, what the interviewee should do after the interview has concluded.
Douglas B. Wilson, the new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, stated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates??™s memo ???is based primarily on his views that we owe the media and we owe ourselves engagement by those who have full knowledge of the situations at hand???. In order to present the most accurate information to the media, one must be knowledgeable of the skills of good interview etiquette. The first step is assessing the interview request.
When assessing the interview request, getting answers to certain questions will help the interviewee assess the request. The five best tips are: 1) What is the medium and who is the interviewer; 2) How
much time is requested; what is the deadline; 3) When will the interview be printed or aired and what kind of story is it; 4) What is the media type For television, will it be live, taped for uncut airing or taped for excerpting And for print, what section of the newspaper or magazine will it be in and will there be photographs and lastly, 5) May the interviewee provide visuals.
Once the interview is agreed upon, it is important that the interviewee have three points to address in the interview. This will keep the interview focused. More than three major points are too much for the audience to absorb. Before the interview, determine: 1) What three points the interview subject would like to make, 2) For each point, write down supporting information??”examples, stories and anecdotes, 3) Have practice questions and answers, 4) Practice!, and lastly, 5) Get updates from news sources before giving the interview.
Remember that the interviewer wants the most professional product he/she can get and may value the access you provide to an essential part of the story. It should therefore be possible to strike up some rapport with the journalist as you talk through the subject before the formal interview. Get it right and the interview will be off to a good start. You have the information; you potentially have the means to control the interview. If possible, ask to use a location that supports your key message, remembering that a picture is worth a thousand words.
The first 10 ??“ 15 seconds are vital. First impressions matter. Consciously or sub-consciously, viewers and listeners very quickly decide whether or not they like someone, and whether they believe them. Think of ???image??™ in two ways: always appear in uniform but wear what is appropriate for the circumstances of the interview. Secondly, consider what ???image??™ you are trying to portray (i.e. ???tough, capable force??? or ???caring leader???). It will affect the way you carry out the interview. All the preparation
is complete and now is the time for the interview. Take three deep breaths and exhale slowly??¦time for you to shine in the spotlight.
When conducting the interview, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, keep what you say short and to the point. Secondly, be succinct (do not over-explain or over-qualify what you say). Thirdly, be positive and upbeat (talk about the solutions rather than the problems). Lastly, talk simple. Avoid service acronyms, jargon and technical terms. Use analogies to explain technical information in a way that anybody can understand. Remember to not over-react or get angry ??“ if the reporter starts arguing with you during the interview, keep your composure. You will appear defensive if you argue. Try to use personal experience with which the reporter can??™t argue. Not only does it bring your story alive, but it reinforces you as the expert. Always answer honestly and never say, ???No comment???. To the public, this immediately conveys the impression that you are hiding something.
All that preparation really paid off. Preparing for an interview is similar to planning your wedding day??¦all the time and effort preparing for the event that only last a very short period. At least the hard part is done. It is now time for you to reflect and think about what was said and how the public will perceive your message.
Once you have completed the interview, review the finished product. Did you get your message across What went well What didn??™t Were your views presented fairly What could you have done differently What you learn from one interview can be applied to subsequent interviews. Keep the notes for the next interview or press conference. If you promised additional information to the reporter, follow up immediately. Get the name of the reporter, producer and sound technician conducting the interview
and update your media list. Lastly, file the news clipping or tape from the interview in a permanent archive.
The interview has come and gone. Naturally, you are reflecting on what you said, how you said it and wishing that you would have said more or even could take some statements back. Nonetheless, you followed all the steps to aid in your interviewing skills and did everything possible to represent yourself, your branch of service and the Department of Defense in a positive way.
In this paper, I covered three interview techniques needed for any military member to accomplish a successful interview with the media. First, I started by assessing the interview request??”answering the preliminary questions before the interview content is addressed. I also looked at what the interviewee should do once the interview is agreed upon, such as the three points to be made and practicing. Establishing a rapport with the reporter is important in laying the ground work for the message that you want to send to the public. Setting a good image is also important for the public??™s first impression of you before any words flow from your mouth. The second technique of conducting the interview involved short, succinct, positive and simple statements to the questions at hand. Lastly, reviewing the final product was a characteristic of what the interviewee should accomplish after the interview.
Mr. Gates??™s memo went on to say, ???I have said many times that we must strive to be as open, accessible and transparent as possible. At the same time, I am concerned that the department [of defense] has grown lax in how we engage with the media, often in contravention of established rules and procedures.??? This quote really shows the importance of how solid interviewing skills when dealing with the media can affect the perception of the military.