How to be interviewed
A good way to communicate
Think of a radio or television interview like a conversation - but with other people listening in. Alongside press releases, interviews are one of the main ways to communicate your message through the media.
Whether you are being interviewed by a journalist over the phone ('down the line'), face-to-face, in a radio studio or live on television, how can you ensure that your point of view comes across clearly? How do you answer difficult questions?
This guide mainly looks at interviews for the broadcast media – radio and television – but many of these principles can also be applied to interviews with a print journalist.
What do you do when a journalist asks you for a radio or television interview?
First of all, don't feel that you need to reply instantly. Spend a short time considering the pros and cons of the interview.
Then, get some information: What is the interview about? What do they want you to say? What sort of programme is it? Who will interview you? When and where will it take place? How long will the interview be? Will it be live or pre-recorded? Who else is being interviewed?
You also need to decide if you are the best person to give the interview, and whether you have a clear viewpoint on the subject or issue. It is very acceptable to turn an interview down, but if possible recommend someone else to be interviewed in your place, e.g. another church leader or organisation.
If you agree to do the interview, the golden rule is to spend time preparing. Find out about the programme you will be taking part in and who the audience will be so you can tailor what you say to suit that particular audience.
The interviewer will usually ask questions he or she thinks the public will want to know. These are likely to be based upon the 'Five Ws' – who, what, where, when, why, and how:
Who - is the story about?
What - is it about?
When - will it happen?
Where - will it happen?
Why - is it happening?
How - will it take place?
Aim to get your message across in three clear points. Prepare and rehearse these but keep them brief - you should be able to say each one in 20 seconds or less.
It helps to have prepared answers in advance to basic questions like: "What does your charity do?". Make a list of questions you hope the interviewer won't ask you and think about how you can best answer them. Remember the points you want to make, but avoid memorising a script as you could be caught off-guard if the interview deviates from what you expect. Finally, make sure you rehearse – get a colleague to fire questions at you.
Keep answers brief, but interesting! On average an interview lasts less than three minutes, so you will need to keep your answers short and sweet. Avoid one word answers as they don't make for a good interview. Speak clearly and simply and avoid jargon.
Using stories to illustrate your point is an effective way of getting your message across, because it helps people to understand what you are saying into context. If you quote facts or figures, use rounded numbers and be careful not to exaggerate.
If the interview is to be recorded for broadcast at a later time, ask how long the interview will last and try to keep within that time - otherwise you will be handing control to the editor, as they will be able to edit parts of your interview out.
Journalists are always on the lookout for good quotes or soundbites – so use them. Don't be disappointed if much of what is recorded gets left on the cutting room floor and the final broadcast only consists of a few seconds of comment.
How do you make sure you get your message across? Good interviews take practice, and the best way to improve is through experience. Good interviewees always find a way to say what they want to say, irrespective of the question.
A useful technique for achieving this is to answer the direct question first, then follow it by saying: "What's important to remember, however….", or "But the real question here is …" or "Let me put that another way….".
Avoid saying 'never' or 'always'. Think about the impression that you want to leave the listener or viewer with and what action you want them to take as a result of hearing your interview. Listening to well-practised interviewees on radio and television can teach us something about getting points across, pace and keeping to the point.
It may sound obvious, but be friendly and look good. Around 80 per cent of communication is non-verbal - more about how you say it, as opposed to what you actually say. Make sure you sound interested in the topic.
On radio it is all about your voice – you can hear whether someone is smiling or is upset. On television be aware of your body language and wear comfortable, smart clothing which makes you feel confident.
Keep eye contact with the interviewer and don't rush to fill natural silences - that's the interviewer's job. Try not to be nervous. Relax before the interview begins and take some deep breaths.
Prepare yourself by asking the interviewer what the first question will be. Never lose control in an interview - if the journalist gets something wrong, correct them, but never argue with them.
Avoid defensive answers and always tell the truth. If you don't know the answer to a question then say so - it is better than speculating or saying 'no comment', which implies you have something to hide. If you make a mistake, correct it then and there.
Don't be intimidated by the interviewer. Journalists sometimes ask more abrupt questions in the hope that they will get more succinct answers. Always remember that you know more than they do about this particular subject. Don't fall into the trap of making comments 'off the record', as nothing is ever completely off the record.
Review the interview
If possible record your interview and review your performance afterwards. Ask others how well you came across and learn from your experience for the next time.
Remember the following acronym - E-I-E-I-O:
E - Evaluation – Should it be me? Am I the most suitable person? What can I say on this subject? When and where is the interview? What is it about?
I - Investigation – Prepare yourself. Investigate the issues around the interview.
E- Elimination – Eliminate irrelevant issues. Your message should have a maximum of three key points.
I - Illustration – Back up information with relevant statistics and illustrations.
O - Orchestration – Make your point early on, as soon as possible after the question has been asked.