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Preparing your CEO for a media interview

A CEO interview is often a high-stakes affair. The interview topics are likely to be broad ranging, spanning your organisation’s performance and strategic outlook, and any damaging customer issues are guaranteed to be on the table. 

There’s no off-the-record, investors and customers will be on the lookout for any misstep and, when things go wrong, the consequences can be dire. Just ask Brad Banducci, the retiring CEO of Australia’s Woolworths supermarket business. 

And yet... Your CEO is time poor and struggles to find time in her diary for you. She or he has probably done many interviews in the past and believes they are an old hand. Why do they need media training? 

Here are some ideas for preparing your CEO that maximize the value of their time and increase the chances of a successful interview outcome: 

Get early buy-in: Having a conversation early on with the CEO can eliminate a lot of guesswork: you can align on your your objectives for the interview, your planned approach and messaging, and whether your CEO should even be doing it. 

Work with the journalist: Ask questions to clarify the interview opportunity: What is the context for the story they are planning? What is the scope of the proposed interview, and what are the topics the journalist intends to cover? 

Prepare a brief: Concisely summarise what you know about the journalist and their media outlet, and how they have covered previous stories about your organisation or industry. What is their editorial stance? Highlight the top 2-3 key messages the CEO needs to emphasise, and their responses to the difficult questions they can expect. 

Understand your CEO’s communication style: While your CEO is likely to be a confident communicator, there may still be work to do. Do they like to talk a lot? If so, you will need to coach them on maintaining message discipline. Or too stiff and buttoned-up? They may need help adjusting their style to connect with the journalist’s audience, for example, by using easily-relatable examples or anecdotes to illustrate their points. 

Practice, practice, practice: Get your CEO familiar with the interview environment (will there be lights and a camera?) and responding to the questions they can expect. Make sure they are challenged on any contentious issues: hire a media trainer if you are not comfortable doing this yourself. 

 

Consider scheduling more than one rehearsal session if possible: it often takes a first practice run for the CEO’s key messages to crystallize.

 

And on the day, make sure their EA has cleared their diary to allow them to give the interview their full mental focus – it's that important. While there are no guarantees in life, these steps can go a long way to giving your CEO the best opportunity to stay out of trouble and shine under the media spotlight. 

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