Media Training Exercises That Will Prepare You For Anything

Whether you’re facing a TV camera for the first time or looking to sharpen your responses, preparing for a media interview can be daunting.

To help you out, we’ve put together a list of tried-and-true media training exercises that have proven to be effective. These practical exercises are designed to help interviewees, and those supporting them, build enough confidence to navigate any interview scenario with ease. 

Let’s dive into the exercises and ensure you’re fully equipped to handle whatever comes your way.

Write the Story You Want

Start by writing the first paragraph of the ideal article covering your story. Then write your dream headline. Finally, script the news anchor’s introduction at the top of the newscast. 

What do these say?

Whatever you’ve come up with is probably the No. 1 key message you want to deliver during your interview. Leave no doubt in the journalist’s mind about what is most important, and hopefully you’ll get the headline you want.

Practice Delivering Three Key Messages

You should go into a media interview with three key messages—the one mentioned above, and a couple of others. 

Developing those key messages is one thing, but delivering them is another.

Key messages will roll off your tongue much more easily in the big moment if they’ve rolled off your tongue before.

Man in suit practices delivering key messages in front of a mirror
Practice key messages in front of a mirror and you’ll deliver them more smoothly in the moment.

Practice delivering your key messages out loud. Each message should be concise enough to articulate in one breath.

Any awkward phrasing or tongue-twisters will become obvious during this exercise, and you can modify your messages accordingly.

Develop a List of Likely Questions

Most journalists will not share their list of questions with you ahead of time, but if you’ve agreed to an interview then chances are you know the topic.

Get as much detail as you can from the journalist about their interest in the topic while you’re arranging the interview.

Based on what they’ve told you, think about the questions you are most likely to be asked. Make a list. Pay particular attention to contentious or controversial questions that tend to come up a lot when people discuss this topic.

Once you have your list, think about how you would answer each question. Write out your answers if you need to, but keep the language natural and conversational.

Prepare a Response to Common Types of Questions

Certain types of questions come up a lot in media interviews. Some of them are tricky and deserve thought in advance. Some are more straightforward, but deserve no less thought if you want to come across well.

Here are types of questions for which you should have an answer ready:

  • Softball: “Tell me about…” (This is your chance to deliver your main key message.)
  • The Basics: Who, What, When, Where, How (Stick to the facts.)
  • The Significance: “Why should people care?” (A good opportunity for another key message.)
  • Words in Your Mouth: “Are you saying that…” (If the journalist doesn’t have it right, don’t repeat their language. Instead, tell them what you ARE saying.)
  • The Upsell: “Is it fair to say that…” (If the journalist is going too far, again, don’t repeat their language.)
  • The Hypothetical: “Would you say that…” (You can decline to speculate and instead deliver a key message.)
  • Human Emotion: “How does that make you feel?” (Answer honestly if you have strong feelings and don’t mind sharing them; otherwise, emphasize a key message.)
  • Off The Record: “How do you really feel?” (Assume that anything you say in the presence of a journalist will be published.)

Prepare a Response to Hardball Questions

Write down the three questions you are most nervous about being asked. Prepare your responses to them. Deliver your responses in front of a mirror.

It’s better to be prepared for a question that isn’t asked than to be asked a question for which you aren’t prepared.

If you get stumped trying to think of hardball questions, try something like this:

  • “There are people out there (your opponents) who say…(insert inaccurate statement). What do you say to them?”
  • “Whose fault is it that…?”

Research Yourself

Enter your name in Google or another search engine and see what comes up. Pay particular attention to anything related to the topic of the interview.

I assure you that your interviewer has already done this.

What have you said about the topic in the past? Is your position today the same or different? If it’s different, can you explain why?

Research Your Interviewer

Now do the same for your interviewer. Understand their media outlet, their journalism background, their recent coverage, and any previous coverage of your topic or your general area of expertise.

You can snoop their social media profiles as well. (Don’t worry, they do it all the time!) Have they engaged in any conversations about your topic or your area of expertise? What positions have they taken, and what points have they challenged others on? 

How might these present themselves in your interview? Do you need to modify your list of questions?

Mock Interview

A mock interview is the best exercise you can do to prepare for an interview.

Now that you have a list of likely questions, along with some hardball questions, find someone who wants to play journalist. Hand them your list and ask them to grill you.

Two women conducting a mock interview side-by-side in the office

Get them to ask questions like a news reporter does, and stay in character. Treat it like the real thing.

The interview should ramp up to some challenging questions toward the end of the interview.

Your interviewer could also try some of these tactics:

  • Surprise you with follow-up questions that you aren’t expecting
  • Mix in some weird oddball questions to throw you off
  • Bring up statements or actions from your past
  • Make it personal in an effort to provoke an emotional response (“Do you have kids? Would you want your kids to…?”)
  • Stay silent when you’ve finished answering to compel you to keep talking (you should resist!)
  • Have an agenda and don’t let it go

Timed Responses

Have your mock interviewer ask questions from your list and time your responses. If you go over 30 seconds, they should let you know how much you need to trim. Then they should ask you again until you’re able to deliver your response in less than 30 seconds.

Record and Review Your Performance

During your mock interview, record your performance. It’s quite easy with a mobile phone.

When you review it, pay attention not only to the messages you delivered but also how you delivered them—your tone and body language. 

Note what you did well and what you could have done better. Get feedback from others on this as well.

Mock Scrum or Press Conference

If you have three or more people who can role-play, give each of them your list and ask them to call their questions out to you. Get them competing with each other to squeeze in their questions. Allow zero downtime between your response and the next question.

Watch the Professionals

Watch a TV newscast with the sound off and pay attention to the anchorperson or reporters. Focus on their nonverbal delivery. How is their posture? What do they do with their hands? What facial expressions do they make? 

After you’ve tried that, watch it again with something covering your eyes. Pay attention only to the sound and how they deliver the news.

Visualize the Audience

When you do a media interview, you are not speaking to a journalist.

There may be a journalist in front of you, but you are actually speaking to that journalist’s audience.

Visualize that audience. Describe them to yourself. Paint a mental picture of the person on the opposite end of your answers—in their TV room, listening on their car radio or scrolling on their phone.

Keep that person in mind as you respond. What matters to them? What will interest them most about what you’re saying? How does it impact them? Tailor your messages accordingly.

Projecting Empathy

Whenever you’re interviewed about a tragedy or a crisis, your empathy should come across. 

In these situations, the audience member you imagine could be your brother, sister, mother or father. How would you explain this difficult situation to them? Use the same language and tone with your media audience.

Whether you’re stepping up to the microphone yourself, or supporting somebody who will, the media training exercises on this page will help you prepare. The more challenging your preparation, the easier the actual interview will seem. Enter it with confidence!