3 Hacks to Prep CEOs Faster for More Authentic Interviews

Have you helped prep a harried, time-constrained CEO or high-level exec for a critical interview? These tips can save you time and transform a one-way download into a two-way exchange. I know because I’ve been honing these practices (stopwatch in hand) with CEOs from nascent startups to large Fortune 500s for the past two decades. No matter if it’s the NYT, WSJ, GMA, Cheddar, or Bloomberg, these are the top 5 practices that help me keep the interview feeling real and resonant.

Use their words, not yours. We may not realize it, but when we write for other people, we are literally putting words in their mouths. Sometimes it works. But more often, if the words feel too foreign or the phrasing unnatural, the words you carefully crafted will either be read as a script, undergo multiple rewrites, or be forgotten altogether.

To save you from wasting precious hours, consider interviewing your CEO before you start writing. Then ask for details, more description, and real-world examples that bring the information to life. At a minimum you’ll know where the holes are and how to research what you lack.

If an interview isn’t possible, consider reading and listening to past interviews and keynotes, or making note of on-the-fly conversations, to extract the best nuggets in your CEOs own words. Sometimes you’ll notice themes emerging you can use as direction for a signature platform.

Get rid of the key messages and opt for speaking points. I don’t say this lightly. Key messaging is great to keep copywriters and marketers on track. Unfortunately, how we write and speak contrasts hugely. Messaging can be complex or vague depending. Often it sounds like marketing-speak — high level and fluffy without lots of meat. Plus, anytime your CEO leads with a key message, he or she will be challenged by the reporter to quickly back the statement up. Better to describe something real, share an anecdote, or facts in context, and only speak those key messages aloud as part of a drop-the-mic takeaway.

Bulleted speaking points that tell a story are a whole lot easier to digest and generally what you’ll be asked to produce. And, when you give your CEO a problem and solution to structure to follow, you’ve just made it a whole lot easier to commit to memory.

Forget the long nights spent on lengthy Q&As anticipating every tough question you could get. Guess, what? Even if your CEO likes to read, remembering every answer verbatim is almost an impossible task. He or she will go rogue.

The best option is to group answers into categories, or what I like to call “buckets”. For instance, there are dozens of ways to ask about growth and scale. How many users do you have? How many employees? What are your revenues? You can answer all of these with, Our growth over the last six months has been exponential. We’ve brought two Fortune 500 companies online and…Then, pull out whatever factoids you have and you’ll have a more robust, go-to answer. Plus you’ll save yourself hours of time.

For more tips like these for presentation, media, and narrative building, see me on Medium.