Tips on Media Interviews

April 21, 2008 at 1:33 pm (Uncategorized)

1. Set goals for every appearance. “One of the tools I use with corporate leaders is ‘OSTA’: objective, strategy, tactics and audience,” says Mike Paul of MGP & Associates in New York. “Everything communicated should have an OSTA plan of attack.”Plan to hammer home your key messages. For interviews, keep answers — especially for TV or radio — to about 25 to 40 seconds each. When it’s appropriate, use props or visual materials to vary your pacing.
2. Nothing is 100% off the record. “Once notes are made, editors, publishers and lawyers can review them,” reminds TJ Walker of TJ Walker Media in New York.This goes for all appearances, not just interviews. Whatever you say — anywhere — can follow you around endlessly and perhaps disastrously. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Then later on, be certain to get back to the reporter with an answer.
3. Watch your body language. “Even in positive interview situations, interviewees sometimes look tense or stiff, which can have a big impact on credibility,” says Gail Gardner of Adamson Public Relations in St. Louis.Before on-camera interviews, if there is time, do some exercises or walk around to relax your body. Also:
4. Stay on track with your message. Reporters usually can
only use what you say against you,” says Margo Mateas at the Public Relations Training Company in San Jose, Calif. “If the interview goes off track, stop it.” You can ask for a break, a glass of water, a visit to the restroom. “It doesn’t matter if the excuse seems lame — they will use footage of you on-camera, not off,” she says.
5. Learn how to “bridge.” This technique allows you to deflect any attempts to derail your message. “Bridging” creates a transition so that you can move from one subject to the message you want to communicate. First answer the direct question, then transition to your message.Atlanta media trainer Debbie Wetherhead suggests such bridging phrases as:
6. Prepare take-aways. Always plan the points or facts you want the reporter and, by extension, the audience to walk away thinking about. You might identify these points as the building blocks of your presentation. If someone else prepares your material, discuss the take-away points first.”Narrow the focus,” says Philadelphia trainer and former TV news reporter Karen Friedman. Then, to get listeners to remember you, “deliver those points passionately and succinctly through analogies and recreating experiences.Finally, it’s not over when it’s over. Make sure to track the results and get reviews of your performance. Ask pals and peers how well your message went over. Be smart and brave enough to make the necessary improvements, so you do even better next time.

When the news media call

If you have news you want reported, you must be available for media contact and promptly respond to requests for interviews. Such contact may take a few moments or, on some big stories pursued by multiple news organizations, several hours or occasionally several days. Some reporters understand the subject matter and are excellent interviewers; others are generalists or less experienced, and may need a great deal of help to report accurately. Media interviews can be enjoyable and rewarding, or trying and time-consuming. Either way, they often are the only method to serve the public and the campus with thorough and accurate information.

Before your interview

Respond promptly to media requests, even if only to decline an interview. Reporters usually are on a deadline; a delay of a day, or even an hour, can mean a lost opportunity, and perhaps a reporter disinclined to call the university again. Your courtesy will help the campus now and in the future. If you expect to be interviewed, spend a few minutes thinking about the message you wish to convey. Develop concise answers to a few key questions, such as

  • What is the purpose of your work?
  • Why is it important?
  • What made you interested in this topic?
  • What makes your contribution unusual?
  • Who will benefit and how?
  • What is the single most important point you wish to make?

During the interview

You have a right to ask about the type of story the reporter is pursuing, the context in which you might be quoted, and the background of the reporter and the publication or broadcast outlet.

Don’t limit yourself to only responding to questions; emphasize points you feel are important.

Remember the audience for the particular publication or broadcast outlet; try to explain what it means to that particular audience and avoid jargon.

Keep statements clear and concise. Provide plain-language interpretations and metaphors. If you don’t, the reporter may choose language that changes the meaning of the story.

Assume that everything you say will be quoted. If you feel that making a comment would be inappropriate or outside your expertise, politely decline.

It’s best not to say anything you don’t want to see in print or on the air; “off the record” means different things to different people and, as a result, it’s best to avoid engaging in conversations that supposedly are off the record. If you want to steer a reporter toward information but don’t want to be identified, specify in advance that the material you’re providing is not for attribution or is for background only.

Avoid saying, “no comment,” which usually sounds defensive; rather, you might explain why you won’t be commenting or offer to check on the requested information and get back to the reporter before his or her deadline.

After the interview

Don’t expect to see the story before publication or broadcast. You may, however, feel free to call the reporter with more information or clarification, especially if the interview left you feeling uneasy.

Inform the News Bureau about any media contact you had, any questions or information generated by it, and any news stories that result.

Tips on talking to the broadcast media

The guidelines are the same as for talking with the print media, but as the subject of the interview, you must be prepared to have your comments edited into a short segment or sound bites. Preparation, therefore, is vital to ensure that you state your main points succinctly.

  • Speak naturally; do not overenunciate or become unusually formal
  • Avoid lengthy technical explanations of your findings and how you reached them; go right to your one or two main points and express them in lay language
  • Use verbal lists to help highlight your points
    “The three ways this will affect the life of the average American are, one…”
  • When possible, illustrate your message with brief metaphors, anecdotes, or descriptions that dramatize your points
  • For television, consider the visual elements that come into play such as what to wear, how to sit, where to look, and how to make effective use of gestures

The News Bureau can help you prepare for a TV interview.


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