Tips for Media Interviews
by Mona Thomas, Former ASHA Manager, Public Relations
Clarify the producer's or reporter's name, the interviewer's name (if a different person), the TV or radio station, newspaper, magazine, or website.
Be sure you understand the reporter's deadlines—when he or she needs to turn in the finished story. Some reporters may operate on daily deadlines, so you'll need to be ready to respond quickly. Also ask when the program will air or the article will appear. If the interview is with TV or radio, find out how long the interview will be, whether it is live or taped (can it be edited?), and how long the finished piece will be.
General strategies for interviews with different types of media:
- For interviews with print media, unless the reporter is on a daily or tight deadline, you usually have a longer time to prepare and respond. There is time to fax information, receive questions from the reporter, or follow up with information. During an interview, use your voice to emphasize points and check in with the reporter to make sure he or she understands—for example, say, "Did I explain that clearly?" or "Maybe I didn't explain that very clearly. Let me say that again."
- For TV interviews, there is typically less opportunity to influence the end result. In TV interviews, demeanor, gestures, voice, body language, and messages are all important. When you are asked a question, repeat the body of the question in your response so that you create a complete thought or sound bite. If your interview is edited, your quote can still be used.
- For radio interviews, voice has great importance. Your voice must have energy, and your words should create mental pictures. Try to use a vocabulary that will achieve a "theater of the mind." Your voice will have more energy if you stand up during a radio interview.
Before the interview, ask reporters what subjects they want to discuss.
Ask whether they need background information before the interview to help them prepare. They may want information on an issue, on you or on your organization. If possible, review past articles or programs done by the reporter. If possible, ask whether the reporter would be willing to provide a list of questions to help you prepare.
Before the interview, decide on two or three key messages you want to convey.
After making a key point or message (general statement), think of supporting facts/statistics and anecdotes to illustrate your point. How can you make your responses colorful or use an example that has human interest? Know your key messages well and be sure to make them during the interview. Provide a local contact for more information and refer to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (say the full name rather than "ASHA") as a national resource for more information. Give the website (www.asha.org) and the toll-free consumer number (800-638-8255).
Find opportunities to repeat your key messages by using phrases to bridge from the question to your message.
"Yes, and what's also important is…"
"Maybe, but it's important to understand that…"
"The real issue here is…"
"I want to remind your viewers/listeners that…"
"If you only remember one thing, remember that…"
Make your points brief.
Television interviews often look for sound bites; the average quotation on newscasts is about 18 seconds. If your response is too long, your comments may be edited and taken out of context, and your response may be distorted. When you are asked a question, repeat the body of the question in your response so that you create a complete thought or sound bite. In this way, if your interview is edited, your quote can still be used. Print media look for concise sound bites, too. If several people are interviewed for a story, a concise response will increase your chances of being quoted in the story.
Anticipate difficult questions and prepare responses that are positive.
If a reporter asks a negative question, consider the question a topic area and respond to a positive part of it—for example, list what steps you are taking to address an issue or situation. Never repeat the negative elements of a question in your response and never say anything you don't want to appear in print or on the air. Nothing is ever "off the record."
Avoid jargon, terminology or words specific to the professions, or words the general public will not understand.
For example, instead of using the term "dysphagia," use "swallowing disorders."
If you don't know the answer to a question, say so.
Tell the reporter you will find the answer and get back to him or her. This is particularly easy to do in interviews with print media.
Always be professional with the reporter; don't get too chummy or personal.
Remember, interviews are not social conversations. Remember to stay on your agenda. In radio or TV interviews, always assume the camera and sound are on.
Let the reporter know you are available if he or she has any follow-up questions.
In reporting about an issue or news event, a journalist strives to identify and highlight those elements that speak to his or her readers'/listeners'/viewers' interests or to demonstrate the potential impact on their lives. Under the pressure of constant deadlines, reporters usually gather information from a number of perspectives and sources, digest the information as quickly as possible, and produce an article that meets their editor's approval.
Become a valuable and credible resource.
If reporters need something you cannot provide, you can demonstrate the breadth of your knowledge and refer them to another person or source of information. Even when it may not result in publicity for you at that time, your willingness to assist them reflects your sense of professionalism, integrity, and understanding of their needs as a reporter. Most will appreciate and remember your help, and call on you again. This is the foundation for building relationships with the media.