In radio interviews, you not only need to be knowledgeable about your subject, you also have to be savvy about the format itself. Try to find out as much as possible about any media outlet that approaches you for an interview. Outlet’s another name for a news organization or media group. Research the station, program, and the interviewer. Using the Internet or a media directory such as Burrelle’s or Bacon’s, you should be able to find out who their target audience is, if the program focuses on news, business, or current affairs, and whether or not it has a political slant.
It’s important to have this information because it will help you prepare for the kinds of questions you might be asked. Knowing that you will be interviewed on the most conservative talk show in the state will not only help you decide whether or not you want to do the interview, it can also help you tweak your message and anticipate the hard questions.
The first thing you need to find out is what the format for the interview will be. There is talk radio shows that will let you speak almost without constraint for thirty minutes or an hour. Then there are news shows that will give you five to ten seconds to make your case. Although the preparation for both is largely the same, the short news clip, requires much more discipline.
Sometimes talk radio shows invite other guests to speak during the program. If you will not be the only guest, find out how the producer is arranging the show. Will you be speaking at the same time as the other guest, in a debate format, or will you be alone for part or all of the interview? Some producers will book one speaker for the first thirty minutes of the show and an opposing voice for the second thirty minutes.
You also need to know if you will be taking call-in questions. You can find out by asking the producer who booked you or by looking in one of the media books. Learning about the demographics of the radio station will help you brainstorm likely questions.
Think of this as opposition research. You know that the same message will not work with every audience. Therefore, take the time to research the station’s audience and particularly, this program’s audience. You don’t have to radically alter your goals, but you should see the benefit in taking a different tack with very liberal and very conservative audiences.
Know Your Message
No matter how long you have to speak, you must stay on-message. Otherwise, the interview does you no good and may do you a lot of harm. Before you talk with the reporter, write down what you need to convey as simply and clearly as possible. If you are doing a short news segment, you will have to cut your message to its most basic form.
Don’t be nervous about repeating yourself over and over. In a taped interview, some of your comments may be cut. Therefore, you want to make sure that you convey your message within every response to every question.
Sometimes reporters will try to bait you with a trap questions. Practice deflecting these kinds of questions with phrases like: “While you may have a point, the real issue is . . .” or “I don’t believe that is an issue, what is at stake is . . .” If you’re in doubt about how to deflect unwanted questions, watch televised press conferences or listen to public radio interviews to see how other people handle them.
Just because you know this topic inside and out doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the interview, especially if this is the first time you have been interviewed by this reporter or been a guest on this program. Run through the questions you may be asked with someone who can critique your responses. Feel free to write up notes and use them during the interview, just don’t rustle your papers.
Try to listen to the program a few times before your interview to get an idea of the kind of questions the interviewer and his or her listeners will ask. Ask someone to run through sample questions with you and get feedback from several people.
Before the interview, make sure you have the directions and the correct day and time of the interview. Sometimes interviews take place at a radio station and sometimes they can be conducted in your office or even over the telephone. Make sure you know who is going where or who is calling whom.
Feel free to ask the reporter how long the interview is scheduled to take and if it will be live or taped. Make sure you know the name of the reporter who will be interviewing you.
Often, the interviewer will request a pre-interview. This may take place a few days or a few minutes before the interview. He or she will take this opportunity to ask you a few questions about the subject. Some pre-interviews are thirty minutes long and some are about 5 seconds! Use the pre-interview to find out what the reporter is looking for from the interview. You can often get a sense of where the reporter would like to take the interview from the pre-interview.
Radio reporters, like print reporters, do not have time to become experts on every subject. They depend on the people they interview to help them better understand the subject. However, do not be lulled into thinking that the reporter will merely ask you soft questions. Reporters are trained to think critically. If there’s a chink in your armor, it’s their job to find and exploit it.
Consider creating a booking sheet to keep track of important interview information. Booking sheets are useful for monitoring interview requests and station/program-specific information.
Here’s a sample booking sheet:
During the Interview
Remember to speak slowly and clearly during the interview, even if the interview is a very short “soundbite.” A soundbite is a clip, usually not more than one to two sentences, that reporters insert into their stories to provide a first-hand or expert perspective. You don’t want to speak so quickly that no one understands the wonderful message you’ve worked so hard to craft.
Here’s a checklist of things to remember for soundbite interviews.. See page 4 for a sample booking sheet. It should also serve as a checklist of important information you should ask producers when scheduling an interview.
If you have a high or squeaky voice, practice speaking slowly and lowly. Likewise, if you are apt to speak in a monotone, try to liven up your speaking style. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to listen and critique your style. You can also record and listen to yourself. Try to be as entertaining and active as possible. Give free reign to your action verbs and use your voice as a tool to convey mood. If you’re happy about recent legislation that would encourage more dentists to accept low income children as patients, let that come through in your voice. Use inflection to vary the rhythm of your sentences. For more pointers, listen to your local NPR affiliate. These broadcasters have mastered the art of holding the audience’s interest through their voices, no matter the subject.
After the Interview
Thank the reporter who interviewed you. Make sure he or she has your business card and one of your press kits, if possible. Ask when the program will air and find out if you can get a copy of the tape for your archives. This is important for many reasons. You can review the cassette to see how you might improve. Pay careful attention to your enunciation and the speed at which you speak. Listen for how well you responded to questions and stayed on message.
The ability to speak well and convey your organization’s message is an important tool. Being able to give good interviews that further your goals, inform the public, and are interesting and newsworthy to journalists takes a lot of preparation. However, the benefits are clear. With practice and preparation, you’ll never say, “um” again.