I Failed a Friend Today – 3 Interview Tips to Avoid Looking Like a Churlish Schoolboy

School boy Be prepared before running off to an interview "Remember the key messages of EO," I said briefly to a Chinese member of the Beijing Chapter of Entrepreneur Organization as he went to meet the journalist from Global Times, a leading English language newspaper. I should have given him more advice on how to speak to the media not just what to say. There are 3 simple points to a successful media interview:

  1. Know thy key message
  2. Speak thy key message
  3. Repeat thy key message

"EO is a global peer network for entrepreneurs. EO Beijing welcomes Chinese members. Entrepreneurs join to build better businesses." The headline was innocent enough and about on – message:  ‘Entrepreneurs make cross-cultural connections at EO Beijing.’ The trouble started as soon as we went past the first paragraph. The Entrepreneurs Organization is a global network of some 7,500 entrepreneurs and, as the co-founder, I was asked to participate in the interview, but the journalist also wanted to interview our two newest Chinese members. It seemed a simple enough assignment. Fang Hao, director of Ethos Technology, said he felt "shocked" when he joined EO Beijing last year. The article continued, ‘Fang hao has trouble "obeying all the rules", including turning off his mobile phone in meetings and being fined for being late.’ This is a Chinese man who has qualified by running a USD$1m + outsourcing company with over 200 staff. Instead of EO looking like a trusted network of peers it was appearing to be an expatriate club for insulting Chinese entrepreneurs. The journalist had kindly sent to us the link to the article, which meant that it was already published; on the internet first impressions are hard to take back. I hurriedly revised certain sentences and wrote to the journalist claiming certain phrases were ‘lost in translation.’ When dual language  interviews take place the need for simplicity and repetition is even more essential.

  1. Know thy key message
  2. Speak thy key message
  3. Repeat thy key message

Alas, Fang Hao had spoken in Chinese so this was a hard argument to make, and I had not been by his side. At stake was the credibility of EO and Fang Hao himself. Kindly, she made some amendments but stood by claims of ‘shock’ and "obeying all the rules" which made our spokesperson look like a churlish schoolboy. I failed that day to give full and proper coaching. It wasn’t asked of me, but I know how to do it and I introduced my friend to the journalist without taking care to ensure that he would be on message. The irony is that we had just completed a media training course for Microsoft the week before – ensuring the MD remains on message and understands how to bridge a topic. The one simple technique is that of bridging. Listen to the question and find a connection to your key message, and while acknowledging the question, answer with your key message. In my editing of the quote relating to ‘obeying the rules’, I bridged back to how EO members are building their business. "I can understand some confidential clauses, but for local Chinese entrepreneurs the requirement for turning off mobile phones for example, creates some challenges as we are always connected to our clients." We rarely mean what we say, but journalists always take what we say as what we mean. Then they work it into an article which says what they want to mean. By the time it is read, it can be hard to know what the key message really was. Next time I help a friend with an interview, I hope that I remember to tell them the 3 simple points to a successful media interview:

  1. Know thy key message
  2. Speak thy key message
  3. Repeat thy key message

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