Use these tips to prepare yourself for that big interview

I have provided public-relations services to plastic surgeons and other aesthetic medicine practitioners for close to 20 years. During that time, I have come to realize that if a surgeon is thrown into an interview “hot seat” unprepared, he or she may just get burned.

As many will agree, not a day goes by without the appearance of a news report regarding a new—or sometimes old—surgical technique or a patient’s personal story in the local or national media. As aesthetic surgery continues to grow in popularity, the news media’s demand for reputable and well-prepared experts in the field will also continue to increase.

To ensure that you are among those to whom media representatives run for advice, you must make sure you are properly prepared for a television interview. Here are some tips to help you stay ahead of the competition and keep up with an ever-demanding news media.

How to Prepare
• Be an expert. As a media resource, you must be the expert that consumers expect you to be. More than likely, you are being interviewed because you have exceptional knowledge and authority in a particular area or field. Therefore, a television interview is your opportunity to project yourself in a confident and professional manner.  

As the interviewee, it is your job to provide viewers with expert knowledge and guidance about your area of expertise. The press, if used correctly, is an incredible tool that will help your practice grow at an incredible speed. If it is not handled properly, it will have the opposite effect.

Be selective. Some people who have the opportunity to appear on a television show are often dazzled by the prospect that in some miraculous way they will find fame and stardom. When my firm works with television shows in the entertainment industry, it is always our goal to create segments that will educate viewers and help them perceive our clients as experts who can enable them to make better, more educated decisions about their surgeries.

However, not all television shows will benefit your practice or are worthy of your presence. If a program is seeking a “freak show” element, or something overly sensational, we will often decline the interview.

Have a clear plan. To ensure that you are able to educate the audience efficiently, you must understand the reasons why you are being interviewed. Make sure that you and the show’s producer have clearly established what will be discussed during the interview.

Determine in advance three to six key points that you would like to convey, write them down, and plan to include them during the interview. If possible, give the reporter a list of your key points in advance. Having a clear plan will help you keep your objective during the interview.

Do your homework. Take advantage of any time you may have before the interview, and do your homework about the show on which you are about to appear. If possible, watch the show and learn the format. This way, you will be able to anticipate how long your interview will last as well as how much time you will have to get your key points across.

While watching the show, you should be “preinterviewing” the interviewer. Get a feel for the reporter’s interview style and how he or she asks questions. This will guide you in knowing how to format your response to each question you are asked.

Also, by viewing the show before the interview, you will be able to see whether the interviewer tends to be aggressive so that you will not be caught off guard during the interview. For instance, Ellen DeGeneres always plays some kind of word game or mind game with guests who appear on her program.

Prepare your responses beforehand. To better prepare your answers for the interview, pretend you are the interviewer. Anticipate the questions that he or she may ask you about the topic, and decide how you will respond.

Pay close attention to potentially sensitive areas. Anticipating these areas will prepare you for opportunities to finish a negative question with a positive answer. You do not have to be afraid of mentioning the negatives, but always stress the positives.

Practice, practice, practice. Once you have predetermined the questions you might potentially be asked, there is no reason to enter an interview situation “cold turkey.” Take whatever additional time you have before the interview, and rehearse.

Although you may be confident about the key points you would like to communicate, you may find yourself out of your comfort zone once the lights flash and the camera is on. Rehearsing with a friend or a colleague and having him or her ask you questions will better prepare you for the actual interview.

While rehearsing, be aware of answering questions too technically. Remember, as an expert in your field, your overall goal is to educate the audience—in this case, the general public or the consumer. Although you have a complete understanding of what you are explaining, remember that this is news to the viewer. Speak clearly, and define what you mean. Avoid using medical jargon whenever possible, and try to use words that will simplify your message. You don’t want to confuse the audience in any way.

Your message is not only what you say, but how you say it. Therefore, practice responding to questions in front of a mirror. Pay close attention to your facial gestures as you talk, as well as your hand and body movements. What you think looks natural may come across as awkward and may be distracting to the audience during the interview.

On With the Show
Dress appropriately. After doing your homework, you are ready for your interview. Before you leave for the studio, make sure you are dressed appropriately. You are being looked to as an expert in your field, and you need to look the part. Dressing appropriately will help the audience take you seriously.

Taking the Stage
A television interview does not have to be a scary ordeal. Here are some tips to help you deal with stage fright.

• Ignore people in the audience and the studio personnel.

• Focus on the interviewer, and speak directly to him or her as if he or she were the only person in the room with you.

• Have a glass of water close by. The action of taking a drink has a calming effect, gives you time to compose yourself, and looks completely natural.

• Smile—even if you don’t want to.

• Avoid taking any calming pharmaceuticals. The last thing you want to deal with is a medication that “decides” to have the opposite effect on you that day.

• Don’t worry about mistakes. Remember, this is the world of entertainment. It is in the show’s best interest to make you look good.

• Don’t forget about Hollywood magic, either. Even “live” shows are sometimes delayed to make you look your best.—AO

If you are being interviewed in a television studio, dress professionally. Stay away from busy ties and bright clothing, which may distract the audience. The best clothing choice for men during a television interview is still a conservative blue or gray suit and a light blue dress shirt. Women should wear a similarly conservative suit or dress.

I also suggest that you bring an additional change of clothes. One of my clients spilled coffee down the front of his shirt while waiting in the green room of NBC-TV’s Today show minutes before he was due to go on. Luckily, he had a fresh shirt with him that he could easily change into. Also, men should be shaved and have a good haircut.

If you are being interviewed in your office instead of a television studio, you should dress like the surgeon that you are. Generally, you should wear your lab coat (preferably with your name professionally silk-screened or embroidered on it) or physician scrubs. Although you may think this is your one time to shine and would like to wear your new designer suit, that would look unnatural—except during a consultation interview.

My real reasons for recommending a lab coat or scrubs, however, are twofold. First, when viewers see you, they will instantly recognize you as a physician. Second, if your name is on the breast pocket of your lab coat or scrubs, it will appear on the screen during the entire time you are being interviewed.

Be friendly. Once you enter the television studio and meet your interviewer for the first time, introduce yourself and thank him or her for having you on the program. During the interview, you must continue to appear friendly and calm. One way to do this is by using the interviewer’s name. This creates the image of a warm, caring, and courteous individual, and suggests to the audience that you regard the interviewer as a friend. At the same time, be careful not to overuse his or her name.

Throughout the interview, continue to address the interviewer as a friend in a conversational tone. This will help minimize your nervousness. If you do feel your nerves creeping up on you, make the nervousness work for you. Use it to heighten your awareness and keep you on your toes.

Don’t panic if you must pause to gather your thoughts. It is better for you to take your time and give a well-thought-out answer than to appear as though you lack confidence.

Manage your stage fright. If you are dealing with stage fright, my only advice is to say, “Get over it!” Everybody gets nervous—even famous celebrities! Believe it or not, notable actors with many years of experience get stage fright. What do they do? They take a deep breath, gather their thoughts, and walk right out into the spotlight! See the tips on page 50 for countering stage fright.

Be aware of your body language. On the set, you will most likely be seated next to, or opposite, the interviewer. This may seem unnaturally close, but it looks very natural on camera. If the interviewer moves in to ask you a question, resist the urge to back away. Otherwise, you will appear nervous or even afraid.

Always look at the interviewer when you are answering questions. Resist any urge you may have to look directly into the camera, because that looks completely unnatural.

During your interview, be conscious of what your body is doing. Keeping your body under control will help you appear more confident. Be careful not to sway back and forth during the interview. Also, do not cross your arms in front of you, because this will make you appear standoffish and cold. And as your mother always said, “Stop fidgeting!”

To look natural, sit with your arms rested casually on the arms of the chair or in your lap. Do not slouch or rest your head on your hands. Slouching will give the audience the impression that you do not want to be there or you aren’t interested in what you are discussing.

Remind yourself that every interview is a performance. You have only a few minutes—sometimes seconds—to make a lasting impression. Make sure it is a good one!

Answer questions carefully. When answering questions, do so carefully. Say “yes” or “no,” “that’s true” or “that’s not true,” then add your explanations. This establishes you as candid and responsible in the eyes of the audience, and helps focus your response.

Listen carefully to each question, and, if you don’t understand it or don’t know the answer, admit it frankly. Don’t let yourself be drawn into subject matter outside your area of competence.

Be enthusiastic about what you are discussing. If you act interested, the audience will want to know more. Remember, you are the expert, and you know your stuff better than anyone else—especially the interviewer.

A media interview is like a game of ping-pong. The interviewer serves, and you return. Develop a strong return of serve. Seize upon those parts of the question that you can use as a bridge to your other communication objectives.

End on a positive note. If the interview was conducted sitting down, remain seated until it is completely over. Acknowledge the interviewer by leaning forward, shaking hands, and thanking him or her for the interview. If you did not like the way the interview went, do not let the interviewer know it.  

Your performance is not over until you leave the building. You want the interviewer to request to have you back on the show. With the right tools and the proper preparation, you can make any interview a success.

Television is a great medium in which to promote yourself, but do not lose sight of your own ethics and reality. Make sure to use those television appearances as a platform to educate patients about the benefits of surgery, as well as a view into new treatments and techniques that offer safer options to the patient. PSP

Angela O’Mara is president of The Professional Image Inc, a medical-specialty public relations firm that has been in business since 1988. She can be reached at (949) 760-1522 or [email protected].