Athletes have more media interview opportunities than most of their peers. While interviews are quite exciting, they also can be rather nerve-wracking. Practice is the best way to become comfortable with these opportunities. In the meantime, here are some pieces of advice to improve your interviewing skills.
1. Avoid Common Adjectives
It’s difficult to properly express your emotions while under the pressure of an interview. As a result, events or performances end up being described as “good” or “fun.” Common emotional descriptors include “happy” or “excited.” Yes, these words get the point across, but they are BORING. In retrospect, the interviewee is often disappointed in these vocabulary selections.
Instead of defaulting to short, frequent statements like “we are happy about how things went today,” try describing your emotions via actions. You can re-write the above statement by letting the reader/listener into the moment. “The celebratory commotion in the locker room was deafening. There were high-fiving and even some tears of joy.” Which statement would you instead read?
2. Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
It is an honor to be featured in the newspaper, but don’t make it all about you. No athletic feat was ever accomplished alone. Be sure to recognize the team around you, whether that be other players, coaches, trainers, or parents. If you don’t have the opportunity to mention their contribution while answering the interviewer’s question, you can always ask to make a concluding statement afterward.
As a reader, I always appreciate a humble athlete. Even more importantly, your support team will appreciate the shout-out. It’s not because they want to steal your glory. When you mention them, it shows that you recognize their efforts. That gratitude goes a long way.
When giving credit, try not to be too general. A statement like “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates” is kind but obvious. A more powerful way to recognize others is to describe how they contributed. “My teammates cheered for me around every bend of the track, which gave me the motivation to push harder.” It makes the shout-out seem more genuine.
3. Speak In Detail
This has already been mentioned in the above two points as a way to enhance your interview. The more detail you provide the reporter, the more material they have to work with. The article is likely to be more entertaining.
Many different people will see your interview. This is especially true for newspaper articles. Often, the reader will only know the basics about your sport. If you get into some specifics, they get a more in-depth taste of the situation. “I jumped farther today because we changed my long jump approach” doesn’t mean much to someone who has never long jumped before. Try explaining what you changed and how that impacted the jump.
Details help create a picture for the audience. They relate more to you because they can connect with the circumstance. Detailed interviews will lead to a more significant fan base.
Don’t be afraid of speaking too much. Most reporters use recorders rather than pen and paper nowadays. They will pick and choose the material that works best. It’s much easier to write an article with excess information at hand. There’s a good chance they will request future interviews with you as well.
4. Avoid Negative Paths
An interview is never a good way to bash an opponent or criticize an official. If you have a problem, approach that person face-to-face. I wouldn’t recommend using media as the first way to advocate for change within your league either. Talk maturely with league leaders. They will respect you much more for coming to them before using media to expose them. If they refuse to change, then yes, media may be an excellent way to rally support for a passionate issue.
Intentional negativity isn’t the tricky issue though. Sometimes reporters will try to pull contrary opinions out of you. This can become a problematic situation. You always have the right to refuse an answer or change the subject. A good out is still “I try to stay focused on the performance factors that I can control.”
It gets even trickier than this! A neutral statement may seem like a negative one when taken out of context. A reporter will not always provide the framework for your answer.
I was interviewed after my senior year Big XII conference meet which happened to be graduation weekend. The reporter asked if my parents traveled to Kansas for the big weekend. I explained that I was missing the graduation ceremony because of time conflicts and that my parents weren’t coming out just for the meet. They would travel to nationals the following month.
The papers read something along the lines of “Since I’m missing graduation, my parents aren’t coming out for just the track meet.” It made it seem like my parents weren’t supportive of my athletic dreams. I was mortified that this would upset them.
Fortunately, in these situations, it often seems worse to the interviewee than the readers. My point is, these things happen. If you catch yourself in the moment, feel free to reclarify what you meant. If you don’t realize it until the article is released, shrug it off. Misquotes and statements taken out of context happen all the time. Call up whoever you may have offended and apologize. They will understand.
5. Be Aware of Nonverbal Language
Video interviews are becoming more and more popular. You don’t have to worry about misquotes or lack of context, but you do have to be aware of your nonverbal language.
Even if you say all the right things, a shrug, eye roll, facial expression, or posture change can tell a very different story. Sometimes these things are harder to control. If you are fired up about something before the interview, take a moment to get your composure before starting the video interview. Talking your way out of nonverbal gesture is hard.
For example, imagine the referees were making excessive calls against your team. If you are asked about this, it may be hard to withhold that eye roll, especially if you are still emotional about it. This can start you down a negative path.
Also, be aware of fidgeting. It can be very distracting to watch an interview if the athlete is consistently in motion. Control your hands. Control your eyes. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to look at the video camera or the reporter. Pick one and stick to it. The worst thing you can do is look around all over the place because you’re not sure which is better.
Finally, our emotions create automatic nonverbal language cues. Athletes are passionate about their sport. Once in a while, an emotion may well-up during an interview. Sometimes our feelings contradict our words.
I’ve teared up (in sadness) while saying something like “I’m proud of the effort I gave, and I’m optimistic about the next meet.” That’s okay. You can feel one way and think another way. Everybody has experienced that, and it doesn’t detract from the point you are trying to make.
Just like a job interview, media interviews take practice. It’s a skill. Remember to avoid common words and phrases like “good.” Give credit to your support system. Provide detailed responses to draw in the readers. Don’t use media as an opportunity to speak negatively about others. Finally, control your body language.
Practicing these components in your daily conversations will naturally translate to your interviews.