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So you’ve been asked to do an interview
Fri, 1st Sep 2006
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Five questions you have to answer before you open your mouth for an interview

Why did you agree to do it? Was it because you were flattered and rather relished the thought of seeing your opinions in print? Was it because you quite fancied the reporter and thought there just might be a spark between you? If the answer to either is yes, get on the phone now.

Explain that you can't possibly do the interview. No ifs or buts. You can't. Because you've failed to answer the first question: do you have a compelling reason for doing it?

The point is, if you're in business, unless you have a compelling business reason to do the interview, you shouldn't. You don't expose yourself in front of your colleagues, competitors and the nation without a good reason. Journalists don't operate spas for jaded egos. Nor is the interview a dating service: Henry Kissinger described his interview with the strikingly attractive Oriana Fallaci as “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.

Question two is basic: what do you want to say?

If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Pick up the phone. Call off the interview. (Are you beginning to get the picture?) Better still, decide what it is you want to say and write down a few notes about it. I know that you're brilliantly articulate and you think best on your feet. It doesn't matter. Write the idea down. Then write down another. And another. Now put them in a safe place. You'll be needing them later. If you have three different things you want to say, three ideas that you want to get across, you may make it through the interview with your credibility intact. Notice that you write notes only – not full sentences. You don't want to come across as if you're reading from a script.

Now we start to get to the tricky stuff. Question three: do you have any facts to back you up?

Journalists like facts. They use them like coat hooks, to hang a story on. Facts make them feel confident about everything else you have to say. Even a single fact will do – if it's new, big and good enough. But it's surprising how many people believe that their opinions alone should make a good story. That works if you're a rock star but my guess is that, if you're still reading this, you're probably not. So go find a good, juicy new fact or two.

Now we get to the part where you sex up the document, so to speak. Can you make it interesting?

To someone other than your spouse, mother or business partner that is. Actually this is the easiest one to answer: it's always “Yes!” The trick is in knowing how. Real examples help immensely. Stories too are great if they support your central ideas (though there's a rapid drop-off in value if they take longer than 60 seconds to tell – no-one signed you up to narrate The 1001 Nights).

While you're in a seductive mood think about your language. Use active verbs (if you haven't met one of these recently you have my sympathy). Avoid abstract nouns: no one ever sounds sexy talking about how they plan to positively impact customer relationships and achieve sustainable competitive advantage going forward, by implementing a long-term strategic plan. In fact write down the words in that last sentence and sign a pledge never to utter any of them in an interview.

Ok, it's time for the last question: do you have time to do all this before the interview?

You don't? Then pick up the phone and call it off. Preparing for an interview is like putting on underwear. It takes only a little time but it makes all the difference in terms of confidence, comfort and control. You may be able to get away with standing up in front of 10,000 people without underwear but are you really prepared to take the risk? Besides if anything goes wrong you're in real trouble.