11 things we can learn from Sesame Street's Grover about media interview training
A real-life example of how to be prepared for media interviews in case the unexpected happens
- Grover has participated in thousands of public events and media interviews since his Sesame Street debut in May 1970
- Grover applies tactics to astound, delight, and stay in control
- Simple words and short replies keep the interview moving along
- You can use Blinder to stage media training scenarios similar to your real-life interviews
In nearly every organisation, exposure is a key ingredient for success. Business executives understand this and make every effort to boost the public’s awareness of their brand or product.
Even for seasoned pros, butterflies might still float in the stomach whilst readying for an interview. Only strategic preparation and practice create a confident, and likable, spokesperson.
Here we take a look at someone who’s still kept on their toes entering a sixth decade of promoting the brand. Sesame Street’s Grover gets a surprising trifecta of inquisitive interviewers in a recent Blinder video call with Stuff reporter and mum of two Emily Brookes.
Tip #1: Treat the interviewer(s) with respect
(0:12) “I think I know who you are, you are Emily. Yes, but who are these other...these other little people?”
Although Grover has only some uncomfortably shared human anatomy, he understands that reporters are human, too.
Grover doesn’t make assumptions about who is in charge. While he’s been briefed that he will conduct an interview with Emily from Stuff, what unfolds is startling: two additional reporters! Yet, Grover plays along and says “I think I know who you are…” to Emily whilst stumbling a bit to appropriately acknowledge the children without labeling them subordinates to Emily.
When you don’t respect those whose job it is to ask questions, it can become a nightmare for your PR team.
Tip #2: Be polite
(0:24) “Well, (I’m) pleased to meet you. My name is Grover.”
Simple, yet effective at setting the tone of the interview and will be reciprocated by the interviewer.
Tip #3: Take time to think about your answer
(0:33) “My best friend? In the whole wide word? I have to say...it is...Big Bird. Today it is Big Bird.”
Silence is good as gold. Many interviewees struggle to stop talking and end up um-ing or ah-ing their way through an interview. Or worse, they just keep rambling and give out sensitive information. Pausing to think about how you will answer the question is an ideal tactic that marks the difference between a polished public speaker and a bird brain (no offence, Big Bird).
Tip #4: Be visual, even when the interview isn’t on video
(0:58) “I like to move around. [Runs in place.] I like to exercise.”
As Ricky Bobby demonstrated and Mark Zuckerberg continues to prove, nothing makes an interview more awkward than physically behaving like a robot during an interview.
Why would you elaborate on an answer with visual cues? Because it’s relatable to the audience. Even in print, the writer can illustrate your personality with words.
Tip #5: Prepare personal, yet relatable, anecdotes
(1:11) “What did I do? I did a lot of cooking with my mommy.”
Grover doesn’t seem to reach too deep to grab the answer to what he did on lockdown. Truth be told, he has a variety from which to cherry-pick depending on the situation. In this case, he’s delighted the children and mum with a charismatic response, leading to a follow-up question that invites more opportunities to display his personality.
Tip #6: Fit your message within the context of the conversation
(1:41) “Elmo has his own television show. It is very entertaining and it is a wonderful thing to do before you go to bed.”
Grover stays on-brand by plugging The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo, which can be streamed on-demand with HBO Max. He maintains the rhythm and simplicity of the interview by adding detail specific to an audience of all ages: “it is a wonderful thing to do before you go to bed.”
Tip #7: Know your audience
(2:40) “Bert keeps trying to get me to read ‘War and Peace’. It puts you to sleep, though. Oh boy!”
Grover lays a joke down for the adults, keeping the true audience (the people who make purchases) engaged.
Tip #8: Ask your own question
(2:52) “Do you have any favorite games that you play with your friends?”
Grover volleys his own question to the intrepid reporters. This serves not only to build rapport but also to make space for a mental break from answering the series of questions. Asking a question can also help relax an intimidating or frantic reporter.
Tip #9: Acknowledge difficult questions, but move things along
(3:25) “Am I real? Well, you are talking to me, are you not?”
Whether you’re under investigation for tax fraud or you constantly have to prove your existence, avoiding a question makes you look guilty. Interviewees should be prepared to face difficult questions succinctly and use “bridging” to reset the course. Grover has clearly faced this question before and bridges to the wonderful diversity on Sesame Street.
Tip #10: Keep off-topic answers short
(3:53) “For me, it is summertime.”
Grover is unlikely to have a hostile interviewer. However, others will certainly face someone trying to catch them off guard. Follow Grover’s lead and keep the answers to off-topic questions short and simple. If the reporter wants to know more, they’ll ask for you to elaborate. Then you can make the decision to choose to or simply reply with the same answer.
Tip #11: Keep the goodbyes to a minimum
(4:30) “It was lovely talking to you all. Bye!”
Journalists are trained to take advantage of the awkwardness of interviews and in no place is this used more than when you think things are about to wrap. They might try to ask more questions or just stare blankly in order to trip you up while you’re looking for the exit. Grover does well to take control of the conclusion by finding the right spot to sign off.