Media Interviews

Media Interviews

If asked for a media interview, alert your ‘boss’ and allow him or her the opportunity instead. If you are authorized to face up to the cameras on behalf of the company, you should have had formal media training.

You are being interviewed because you are considered knowledgeable in your field. It follows therefore that you must know your facts and be aware of any recent changes that may have occurred within your subject or situation. If you don’t, then don’t do the interview.

If you have not recently been in the affected area, don’t do the interview.

Before the interview, make sure you have found out:

  • What the interview is going to be about
  • What angle the journalist will take
  • Who else the journalist is talking to
  • Whether it will be live or pre-recorded for later broadcast

Have three points you want to make, and, whatever the question, make these three points. Do enough homework to be able to justify these three points and tell the interviewer beforehand that you intend to make them. Remove all extraneous and unwanted material so you are left with a headline sentence or ‘sound-bite’ for each message. A sound bite is a quotable quote: brief, self-contained, phrased in everyday language, and roughly five seconds long, it will need to be clear, concise and punchy.

It is always sensible to have prepared answers to the most difficult questions. Write these down and agree them with colleagues or bosses prior to the interview. One of them will be along the lines of, “why were you so slow to respond”. Ask the interviewer what questions he or she is going to ask (professionals from national networks will not ask ‘trick’ questions). If asked an overtly political question, duck it and do what it says in the first sentence of this paragraph.

“Always offer any interview opportunity to your Boss.”

There is no need to rehearse; just talk slowly and clearly (it always amazes me how many Scots and Australians speak heavily accented English very rapidly when being interviewed).

The Golden Rules of interviewing are:

  • Get your pre-determined message across
  • Don’t let the interviewer put words in your mouth
  • Keep off other people’s business
  • Keep off politics
  • Avoid sounding defensive
  • Don’t interrupt

As with any form of public speaking, take ten slow, deep breaths before you go on (you can do this in full view of others and without appearing to have just run a marathon), and take a drink of water immediately prior to speaking. Watch carefully, and you will see seasoned politicians doing this before delivering a speech.

In the field, a TV interviewer will stand beside or behind the camera. Someone will ask for quiet and then say something similar to “rolling” (not “action” … you are not making a movie). At this point, a little red light comes on above the lens. Ignore it and speak to the person asking the questions. Do not look into the camera. This is easy in a studio where you can hardly see any cameras because of all the bright lights. Be aware that you will need make-up for a studio interview, but remember that blushes don’t show on TV. When introduced, just smile and keep looking direct at the interviewer. Don’t reply with, “good morning (Valerie); it’s a pleasure to be here” as this will make you sound like a politician. Don’t be tempted to look at all the movement going on around you in the studio.

Treat radio, television, and newspaper interviews the same way. Everything you say matters. There is no such thing as, “off the record” for an aid-worker, although you can insist on being quoted “without attribution” (i.e. anonymously).
This is is a section from Clusterwise 2. Reproduction is encouraged. It would be nice if the author, James Shepherd-Barron, and were acknowledged when doing so.

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