I spend the first 30 minutes of every workday working my way through the top news of the day and stories that cover my clients’ markets. This means I have watched a lot of interviews. A LOT. Which also means I can very easily rattle off a handful of bad interviews. Interviews where someone stepped in ‘it,’ attacked competitors too hard, or they did not prepare. As someone in PR, these failures stick with me. It’s like when a contractor walks into a poorly built house, they won’t forget it.
However, the same can’t be said of stellar interviews. If asked, I’d have to do some digging. It’s easy to be mediocre, it’s hard to be stellar.
That is why when I recently stumbled upon a Quotable podcast episode where Guy Raz explored how Michael Coscetta built Square’s sales business, I took note. Sales is not my thing and a sales podcast is not typically on my running playlist, but the interview hooked me and by the end, I was ready to buy a Square reader for my nonexistent business. If you don’t know Square, they sell the little white card readers used to process credit card payments at independent stores — think farmers market or coffee shops.
Michael was good, he was engaging, and subtly, he kept pivoting a conversation about sales back to what Square is doing as a business.
If you have 39 minutes to spare, I recommend giving it a listen. However, even without a listen, you can learn from five things Michael did well.
- Sound bites | Get ‘em in early and often. Before your interview, determine the two or three main points you want people to walk away with. Then prepare a sound bite for each, something short that clearly articulates your point without clutter. From listening to Michael, it is obvious he wanted us all to walk away knowing that Square ensures merchants “never miss a sale.” By narrowing the main message down to four easy to understand words, the listener can quickly understand what Square will do for them, without much thought. By repeating it — five times throughout the 39-minute podcast — Michael ensures it sticks in the listeners’ brains.
Michael does another great thing where he actually describes the product instead of using the name – Square reader – each time he references it. The name isn’t the catchiest and you do not initially know what the product is from the name. So instead, he evokes another sense by giving us visual context when he refers to it as, “the little white reader.” Michael draws a picture for us and increases the likelihood that we know what he is talking about, and that his message will stick.
- Credibility | Memorize a handful of proof points and facts. While this may seem obvious, it is easy to get caught up in the moment and exaggerate or make claims you cannot support. It is imperative that you reinforce your message with facts. Michael does this time and time again, peppering in proof points – about the number of sales Square processes or the number of small businesses in the world – that reinforces his statements and builds credibility for himself and the company he is representing. If you don’t have proof points, do not make them up!
- Lead with the positive | Don’t bash. When asked about losing their contract with Starbucks, Michael didn’t get caught up responding to the revenue loss, instead he used this time to reiterate how Starbucks inspired Square to tackle bandwidth and security concerns, which enabled them to be a better vendor for their current, smaller customers – if they could do it for Starbucks, they can do it for you. Michael could have been negative and said something like, “ it was a blow to lose our largest customer,” but instead, he came off as gracious while also being able to promote the strength of the product proven by Starbucks. In an interview, stay in your line, lead with the positive and focus on what you do well. Never bash a partner, past or present.
- Bridging | Learn how to do it well: Leading with the positive brings us to bridging, the cornerstone of media training that enables you, as the interviewee, to steer the conversation back to the key messages you want to discuss. To bridge, you acknowledge the question with a brief answer and then you transition to one of your key messages. Michael does a beautiful job when asked about competitors of briefly acknowledging the question and then pivoting to Square’s mission, again repeating two of his sound bites.
- Be prepared | Practice and get feedback: Like anything in life, come prepared because you don’t want to be caught off guard. Once they start recording, it will be obvious if you didn’t do your homework and it will reflect poorly on both you and the company you are representing. A good media partner will make sure you are prepared for your interview, help craft solid sound bites and they will walk through questions you can anticipate. Role playing is another great strategy, enabling you to practice so that you come off as you should, as a star!