1. Do your research
Giving an interview on the radio or TV can be nerve wracking – particularly if you don’t have much experience of the media. That’s why it’s vital to have as much information as possible about why you’ve been asked to give the interview and what will happen before, during and afterwards.
Ask these questions before you agree to an interview, and you shouldn’t go far wrong:
‘Why are you doing this story now?’
Journalists often talk about the ‘hook’ or ‘peg’ for a story i.e. the reason why they want to cover a particular story at a particular time. Knowing why a producer wants to cover a story will help you decide whether it’s something you feel comfortable talking about.
‘Who will the interviewer be?’
This can give you a chance to research their interviewing style, which can be helpful for your preparation. A word of caution though: the fast-paced nature of the media means things can change, without warning, so be prepared for anything.
‘Who will I be on with?’
Radio and TV aims to entertain as well as inform. Essentially it’s showbiz. So it’s common practice – even on the most serious news programmes – for producers to line up interviewees with opposing views. Knowing who you’ll be up against can help you prepare more effectively – or even make a decision about whether you’ll give an interview at all.
‘What’s coming before and after me?’
Knowing if there’s a ‘set up piece’ (a pre-recorded feature/interview) can help you get a feel for how a producer intends to cover a story. If there is one, don’t be shy about asking to see/hear it (although do be aware this may be impractical due to timing).
‘How long will I be on for?’
This will give you an idea of how much material to prepare (although see number 2).
2. Prepare with care
Preparation is always a good thing, but be aware that most media interviews only last a few minutes. If you have too much stuff whizzing around your head, you may find it more difficult to concentrate on and answer the questions.
You can spot over-prepared interviewees a mile off; they usually talk too fast and often ‘vomit’ information rather than answering the questions put to them.
Keep it simple; prepare lots but have just one ‘take away’ point and try and get it in as early as possible.
3. Avoid big words
When you’re giving an interview, it’s tempting to speak ultra formally or slip into professional jargon – both of which can alienate your audience. While it can feel like you’re giving a presentation or a speech, remember you’re actually talking to the interviewer. And your audience is people doing mundane things like having coffee and toast at the kitchen table, driving to work or doing the ironing. So if you want to keep them engaged, you need to use simple, everyday language and not assume knowledge on their part.
People who work in education are prone to use phrases like ‘programme delivery’ or ‘widening participation’ – but the majority of people have no idea what they’re talking about. I was recently delivering media training to a membership organisation where one of the participants kept using the word ‘infrastructure’ – which can mean different things to different people in different industries (he meant it in the context of rail, road and air). When he stopped talking about infrastructure and started talking about trains, cars and planes, he immediately became more interesting and relevant.
For more on how the language you use impacts on people, read this: why using big words can make you look stupid.
4. Be visual – even for radio
I’m a regular newspaper reviewer on Radio Kent. Just before Christmas I was invited to stick around after my spot to taste some non-alcoholic cocktails being made live on the show by the bar manager from a local hotel. Aside from a clinking a bit of ice in a glass (and the presenter describing what the bar manager was doing) it wasn’t easy to convey to the listeners what was going on in the studio. But when the presenter tried the cocktail, the bar manager said to him ‘I can see by the look on your face that you really enjoyed that’ – which instantly made it visual.
Another time, I was delivering media training to an organisation that works closely with university technical colleges (schools that specialise in vocational education) and their people were struggling to explain exactly what they did. So I asked ‘If I came into one of your schools, what would I see that was different to others?’ ‘You’d see a group of teenagers milking a cow,’ said one. ‘You’d see a group of girls taking apart the engine of a car,’ added another.
Instantly more engaging.
The moral of those stories is: ‘show, don’t tell’. Instead of telling people about your project or initiative, show them through lively, visual examples and you’re far more likely to keep your audience engaged.
For more tips on giving interviews on radio and TV, read: How to shine in media interviews
5. Beware of repeating negatives
If you’re asked a question about something negative, it’s easy to fall into the trap of repeating the very word or phrase you’d rather not talk about. I’ve heard people being asked: ‘Is there a drugs problem at your school?’ Their reply? ‘No we haven’t got a drugs problem at our school. I mean, we have had drugs problems in the past, but I can safely say that since we introduced our new drugs policy, there have been no problems with drugs at our school….’
See how easily it can happen? Use the technique outlined in number 6 to help you avoid this.
6. Acknowledge difficult questions…but move things on quickly
Politicians are brilliant at this. They acknowledge the question, saying something like ‘well that’s a really interesting point’ or ‘Yes I have heard that said’ before moving the conversation on using a ‘bridging’ phrase like ‘but what I’m really here to talk about it is…’ or ‘but I think the issue we really need to address is…’
It’s important to use words and phrases that feel comfortable to you (see number 7) but this can be a really effective way to take and keep control of an interview.
7. Be yourself
Never forget that radio and TV is showbiz – and like it or not – interviewees are characters in the show. In fact, producers often talking about ‘casting’ rather than booking appearances. So resist the temptation to tone down your accent, personality or anything else that makes you uniquely you. That said, appearances do matter – particularly for TV – and smart (at least the smartest version of you) usually works best.
Interested in booking media training for your team? Find out more here and in the video below.