18 October 2019
There’s a good chance that at some point in your life you’ll be asked to speak to the media. It could be because of the position you hold in your job, it could be because of your hobby or a sport you play, or you might simply be collared on the street by a roving journalist with a microphone or TV camera. Whatever the reason, whether you’ve pursued the media opportunity or it’s just landed on your lap unexpectedly, you should make sure you’re prepared. So how do you do that?
The most important thing is to go in with a lot of energy. Try to be a more energetic version of yourself. This means when you’re talking, sound enthusiastic – it often helps to talk a bit louder than you would normally. Smiling whilst you talk will help with this too. Of course, if the answer is serious you should lose the smile, but don’t lose the energy.
Don’t be afraid to take pauses to think – it’s much better than constantly filling in the spaces with ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’. Don’t rush your answers, speak slowly, but not at a snail’s pace as that can be boring – just quick enough that each point is clear.
Think about the length of your answers. The worst thing for an interviewer is when they ask a long or detailed question, and then you simply answer; “yep”. It throws them off, and they have to scramble for another question, which makes things difficult for both of you. Even if they ask a closed, yes or no question, give a full answer, but avoid going on and on, or repeating yourself – this is particularly important for radio. For TV however, you don’t want to respond with “yep”, but you should keep your answers a bit tighter. That’s because they’re likely looking for a soundbite of no more than 20 seconds long. It’s not always easy to give an answer that’s the perfect length, but as long as you don’t feel like you’re droning on, or have said only a couple of words, you should be alright.
Come armed with a notepad, and before the interview, write any notes you might need. If it’s relevant, prepare some statistics you think the listener might be interested in. Any stats you do have should be written in a way that is clear. If the figure is 10,562, instead say ‘more than 10,000’. And although you might want notes, you absolutely do not want to come in with a script. The interviewer won’t like it, and it will come across sounding very staged, and will turn people off.
Feel free to write notes as the interviewer asks questions, so you don’t lose track of your answer. However you might be pressed to write anything because often questions are kept short and succinct, but it doesn’t hurt to have a pen in hand.
If you don’t know the answer to something, you can say so. It’s okay not to know all the answers. But do try to answer when you can, because ideally you don’t want to say “I don’t know” more than once or twice. Sometimes the interviewer will have phrased their question badly, so feel free to ask them to repeat it – they won’t word it the same way twice. Oh, and don’t say, “That’s a good question.” They know it is – they asked it!
Avoid getting anxious, nervous or becoming argumentative if the interviewer asks a difficult or challenging question. You don’t want to seem defensive – so always answer questions calmly.
Use as little jargon as possible – say everything in layman’s terms so that anyone listening can understand what you’re saying. Relate what you say to events that people will have heard of.
For radio and podcast interviews, practice good microphone etiquette. Before you go on air, or before the recording starts, your levels will be tested. Often people speak too quietly during level check, or say singular words. Even if you only had a coffee for breakfast, when they ask the question, lie! Give them an elaborate spiel about what you had, they don’t actually care what you had, they just want to check how loud you are.
Also, make sure you speak as loudly and clearly as you will be speaking during the interview. It’ll mean you can be tested properly and you’ll sound perfect from the very start of the interview. During the interview, stay at the same distance from the microphone as during your level check. If you move around a lot, it’ll render the check useless as you’ll be constantly getting quieter/louder. Stretch apart your thumb and little finger – that’s about the distance you want to be from the front of the microphone.
It really is genuinely a lot of fun to be interviewed, for the most part. Think of it as a conversation, not an interview, because that’s the atmosphere most interviewers want to achieve. Oh, and enjoy it! It will be over before you know it.