Doing Better Media Interviews: Quick Tips

The following is excerpted from Chapter 9 – “Selecting and Training Spokespeople” – of CCMC’s book, Strategic Communications for Nonprofits: A Step-by-Step Guide to Working with the Media.

  • Use the interview to say what you want to get across. One way to stay on message is to prepare a message box or, as an alternative, a short list of key points on no more than one page. Keep it by your phone or workspace. If you are doing an interview over the phone, you can put the list in front of you and check off each point as you make it. Remember, you may need to make the same point several times. But when you are being interviewed in person, on radio, or on television, you’ll need to do this mentally. The message box technique described in Chapter Four allows you to revisit your points without seeming rote or programmed. Moving around from the central point to the problem statement, values, and recommended action is a good way to stay on message while following the flow of a normal conversation.
  • State your messages more than once. Think about different ways to make your main points, and try to say them aloud three or four times in the course of the interview.
  • Do not say more than you planned to say or feel comfortable saying. Do not feel you have to fill every moment in an interview with your voice. Patches of silence will be edited out of a taped interview. For print interviews, set a time limit. When you sense that you are on the verge of saying too much, say, “I hope this has been helpful” or “Is there any more you need from me?” as you make motions to wrap up.
  • Speak in complete sentences, especially in reply to a question. If you’re asked if you think the governor is sympathetic to your latest proposal, do not just answer, “Of course,” or “Hell, no.” Instead say, “We think that the governor will back this idea when he sees its potential for . . .” or “We know the governor is going to be an obstacle, and we’ll be ready for that when the time comes.” Grunted, monosyllabic answers will not be quoted or broadcast.
  • Be memorable. Listen to others in the media and write down the pithiest, most quotable remarks they make. Adapt them for use in your own words. Practice them aloud, even in front of your dog, so that you get used to the way they flow. Make them part of your interview agenda.
  • Do not fake it. If you do not know the answer to a question, volunteer to get back to the caller with the information. In a live situation—on a talk show, for example—simply explain that your expertise does not extend to that area and that you do not want to make a mistake that would be repeated by others.
  • Say your organization’s full name. There is a tendency in an interview to use the full name of your organization just once at the beginning and then to refer to its acronym or some other shorthand version (such as “the center” or “the council”) in later references. This is a mistake in a taped interview. The first reference may be edited out, and later ones will no longer make sense. If you embed the full name of your organization in a pithy quote, you improve the chances that the report’s audience will hear it and make the right connections. You should also mention your Web site whenever possible.
  • Learn whom you will be up against. If you have been invited to be on a talk show, assume that your worst opponents might also be invited. Find out who else has been asked, and try to do some research on that person by checking past media coverage.
  • Revise your interview as needed. If you are in a taped-interview setting and you have started making a comment that you want to fix or revise, start from the beginning of your thought and repeat the whole thing the way you wanted it to come out. It is too much to expect that the reporter will splice a corrected ending to the good part of your first comment. Make his or her job easier and improve the chances of getting the message out correctly by taking it over from the top.
  • Be animated. Television has a way of flattening out a personality and making a comfortable, relaxed person appear uninterested or bored. Try to do the mental equivalent of standing up straight. Keep focused, listen to each question with laser-like intensity, and then be animated and even passionate in your replies.
  • Do not play or fidget. Television has an unblinking, unforgiving eye. Do not squirm, rock in your seat, bounce or nod at every comment, play with clothing or jewelry, or otherwise introduce any distractions into the interview or talk show.