Interviewing 101–Nailing the Message

I’ve spent my career as a marketing and communications professional, crafting and delivering messages both on paper and in front of the camera. Being interviewed has been part of my job for more than 25 years (don’t do the math please!), but I’ve never been so ill at ease talking into a mike than I was with Virginia Farm Bureau’s Norm Hyde operating the camera and Sherri McKinney interviewing me as part of our VALOR leadership learning. Why? Because I was being critiqued by them and my VALOR peers. They were LOOKING for me to do something wrong and tell me all about it when my interview was over. Thankfully I didn’t blow it. Truth be told, I never have. But I’ve always known I could do better. Probably a lot better. I’ve never actually had professional media training, but I’ve always thought it would help me deliver my message better. Now I know I was right.

The feedback I heard throughout each of our interviews and the info in the handouts Sherri gave us were invaluable to me for my job. Now it’s my goal over the next few months to try to really ingest the “Bridging Language” phrases like “I’ve heard that but the facts are…” and “The real question is…,” as well as the “Flagging Words and Phrases” language like “I can’t stress this enough…” and “What people need to realize is….”

This is some powerful stuff! And I want to make sure I keep it in my back pocket for when I need it.

I also was very impressed with the “message house” concept Sherri shared with us. What a great way to break down a message you want to deliver into easy-to-remember chunks. In a nutshell, she simply advised us to draw a stick figure of a house, with a triangle for a roof and a box underneath it, broke up into three equal vertical sections like columns. The triangle, or roof of the house, contains the umbrella statement, or take-away message you want to deliver. Then the three supporting sections underneath it are the three points you’re going to use to support your message. You can also add a horizontal rectangle underneath the whole house to serve as the foundation of your message. Something like this….

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Simple, right? So I tried it about two weeks later when I found out when I took my 8th grade daughter for a high school interview that in less than an hour I was going to be interviewed by the school as well. Oh, no! I hadn’t seen that coming. What was the overall message I wanted to convey about my daughter and what will I use to support that message? Then I remembered Sherri’s message house, and it all came together. I doodled it on the back of a handout sitting on a nearby table, I mentally rehearsed it a few times, and then I delivered the prepared message articulately and compellingly. I won’t know until March if my daughter was accepted into the high school, but I do feel confident the message house quickly and effectively prepared me to deliver a message that will give my daughter the best leg up I could provide.

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After Sherri’s and Norm’s presentations and the interviewing exercise, they took us back to their “bat cave,” as they call their offices, and we took a group shot in their production studio. (See the photo above. That’s me all the way on the right with the pink scarf.) If we all look a little weary, it’s because we had just completed our interviews, which I think we would all agree, were very stressful. But I think we were all glad, too, that we did them. And you know what? I think we were all pretty darn good! (Sherri and Norm agreed, too!)

Thanks, Sherri and Norm, for the media and communications lessons you taught us that day and for your continued support of the VALOR program. Your efforts will no doubt make all of us stronger advocates of Virginia’s agriculture industry, regardless of what sector of that $52 billion industry we represent.

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