How to Do Media Interviews
Whether you’re a branch president or public policy chair, a student leader, or a member of the AAUW story bank, there is always a chance a member of the media may be interested in your point of view on stories related to gender equity. A media interview, whether for the local ABC station or for the Washington Post, is a great opportunity to highlight AAUW’s important work and to further our issues. And a basic understanding of a reporter’s job along with a few techniques can increase your effectiveness in communicating key messages in interviews.
Speaking with a reporter may sound daunting but don’t panic! The following guide includes helpful tips to make you an interview pro in no time.
- Never take the call cold.
If a reporter calls, never agree to do an interview on the spot. Reporters are on tight deadlines but it is in your best interest to take your time to prepare for an interview. Ask the reporter’s deadline and set up a time to speak with them after you have taken sufficient time to prepare.
- Ask questions.
Ask about the subject of the interview, the news outlet (take a minute to browse their website if they’re unknown to you), who else the reporter has talked to, any specific questions the reporter has, and when the story will run.
- Define your messages.
There is only one reason to give an interview: to communicate your messages. Before going into a media interview, outline your main take-home messages — what you want the reporter’s takeaways to be after speaking with you. Write this message down so you can always return to it. Next, it’s smart to identify a personal experience to support the messages, and a few statistics to accentuate your key points. During the interview, your primary mission is to deliver these key messages while answering the reporter’s questions.
Dos and Don’ts of Interviewing
DO keep answers short.
You may do an interview for 30 minutes, but the average sound bite is 10–20 seconds long, so be clear and concise. Newspaper reporters may concentrate more on the background of an issue or want more explanation, while broadcast reporters may try to extract a quick sound bite. Either way, make sure to provide short, concise quotes that the reporter can use.
DO communicate your messages.
Answer questions, but don’t be distracted from communicating your messages. That’s the main goal!
DO use firsthand examples and descriptive language.
Communicating personal experiences can be dramatic and powerful. Use them as often as possible.
DO use plain English.
Keep the audience in mind, and speak in terms familiar to them. Avoid getting too wonky or in the weeds with issues.
DO pause before answering.
Take a brief moment to consider your response. This shows you are actually listening and thoughtfully answering questions.
DO answer the questions.
It’s best to answer even tough questions, or your credibility with the audience may be damaged. But remember, you’re not obligated to agree to the interviewer’s statements, and your mission is to deliver your messages.
DO take the high ground.
Always respond in a positive way, and turn negative questions or comments into positive statements.
DO use body language effectively.
If you’re doing a broadcast interview, you aren’t only communicating verbally. The interviewer and audience will see your nonverbal cues as well!
To help people focus more on your messages, keep your arms loose and gesture naturally. This will help you appear calm and confident. Don’t clasp your hands together, cross your arms or legs, put your hands in your pockets, or adopt any posture that prevents you from moving naturally. Strive for a relaxed, animated face. Avoid sympathetic nodding, which could be interpreted as agreement.
Nonverbal cues are important even when doing a phone interview. Stand up if you can when doing a phone interview, as it opens up your diaphragm and helps your breathing while you talk.
Reporters often wait before asking their next question to encourage you to keep talking. Deliver your message concisely then stop talking and wait for the next question. Be comfortable with silence!
DON’T discuss hypothetical situations or unfamiliar matters.
If asked about a situation or case about which you have incomplete information, or about a hypothetical scenario, respond by discussing the issue instead. Say, “I can’t respond to hypothetical situations, but if you’re asking about the issue of [state the issue], it’s clear that [state your message].”
DON’T argue or interrupt and DON’T lose your temper.
You can tell a reporter you prefer not to comment (explain why), but never get angry.
DON’T lie or bluff.
If you don’t know an answer, say so. You can damage your credibility by speculating incorrectly. If you should know the answer but don’t, offer to research the answer, and then be sure to follow up.
1. Talk in sound bites. Although the camera may film you for 15 minutes, you will only be on the air for about 10–20 seconds (unless it’s a documentary), so use brief, concise statements.
2. Use memorable words (here’s one example from AAUW’s own Lisa Maatz). State your message clearly and powerfully.
3. Look your best. Take advantage of television makeup artists, if offered. Don’t wear multiple patterns together (e.g., stripes or checkers) or colors because these combinations cause vibrating lines on the camera. Jewel-tone colors work well. Avoid large earrings or jewelry that could be distracting or catch the light.
4. Always ask the interviewer where they want you to look: at them or the camera.
5. Watch your body language. Stand or sit straight-backed. Don’t fold your arms, and appear open and in control. Don’t let your shoulder blades touch the back of your chair.
6. In interviews where you’re standing, take command of your space by standing with one foot slightly ahead of the other, toward the interviewer.
After you finish a media interview, keep an eye out for when the story runs. That way you can see if the outlet used a quote from you and if so, which quote they used. Knowing what reporters are interested in and talking about can help you in your future messaging. You’ll also become a better interview subject if you know what works and where you may need a little more practice. Remember: Practice makes perfect!
AAUW media staff can help you with your media engagement! Reach out using firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions you may have on media outreach or AAUW issue messaging.
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