03/27/2012 12:07 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2012

The Media Are Calling. How Will You Answer?

A reporter calls you and says he or she wants to interview you for a news story. Great. Now, what do you do?

Unless it's a crises situation or a breaking news story, you're more likely than not going to have time to gather your thoughts. Find out what the reporter's deadline is and, if it's not immediate, say you'll call him, or her, back shortly.

That's when the process really begins. Start by asking yourself some critical questions. The first one is, "Why should I be doing this?" Assuming you have valid reasons, your next questions should be "What's my message? What do I want an audience to know or feel about what we are doing? Who is the audience? Is it the readers of The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The New York Post or the online or electronic media version of the above or something altogether different? When you know whom you are talking to, you can present your message in a way that is understandable and relevant. You need to answer the audience's unasked question, "Why should I care?"

Strive to do more than just give information. Facts and data are important, but your real opportunity is to interpret that information. What does it mean? Why is it important? What are the implications of what you are saying?

A media interview also gives you a chance to define yourself and your message. If you don't, someone will do it for you and perhaps in ways that you might not appreciate.

Go into each interview with at least three points you'd like to make. It's important to answer the questions being asked, but you always have the opportunity to bridge the discussion back to your agenda--the three points you want the audience to walk away with.

Here are some more tips of what to strive for in an interview:

• Be a good story-teller. Stories illustrate your points. Narratives also make an emotional and visual connection from what you are saying to the listener's hearing and imagination.
• Have strong convictions. Make the audience and the media believe in what you are saying.
• Be interesting. If you are dull and boring, the audience and the interviewer will be turned off.
• If you don't know the answer to a question, simply say you don't know. But get back to the interviewer with the pertinent information ASAP.

Here is what you should not do:

• Don't go off-the-record. Don't say anything that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of The New York Times. Unless you have a longstanding and trusting relationship with the reporter, don't do it. Your idea of what's off the record and the reporters maybe completely different.
• Never speculate or answer hypothetical questions. You're being asked to predict the future. Nostradamus, you're not.
• Never say "no comment." If you do, you'll sound evasive. Say only what you know and not what you don't.
• Never buy into a reporter's faulty premises. Correct incorrect mis-information that might make up the body of a question.

An interview can be an ideal opportunity to tell your story. But think carefully about what you want to say and be well-prepared.

Bob Berkowitz is the media trainer with The Dilenschneider Group, a New York based strategic communications firm. He is a former CNN White House Correspondent and reporter for ABC News.