Working with the Media
Helpful Hints for Spokespersons

Updated: 6.1.06

Preparing for the Interview

Develop three to five messages or "talking points." These are the main ideas you want to emphasize and repeat during your interview and should be based on the Sample Talking Points. Weave these points into all of your answers. Anticipate what questions may be asked and be prepared with answers. If you are successful at 'staying on message," you can help shape the news coverage.
Learn more about the interview. Ask what the reporter is looking for. What is the goal of the story? Will this be live or on tape? If it is a radio interview, will listeners be calling in to ask questions? Or, if it is a TV talk show interview, will there be other guests or panelists?
Understand the reporter's timeline. Find out when the reporter must complete the story and plan your interview accordingly. You should plan to accommodate the reporter's deadline so they will not feel rushed and your interview will go more smoothly.
Wear the right clothing. Dress conservatively. Never go more casual than business casual, unless this is a story with an "outdoor" focus. You'll never be overdressed wearing a suit.
Relax and focus. Breathing exercises will go a long way toward helping you feel calm. Get to your location early (10-15 minutes) and spend time practicing your core message points.

During the Interview

Avoid jargon or technical language. Avoid "insider's" terms or jargon that may be unfamiliar to the general public. Try to simplify your explanations and use analogies to help explain difficult concepts.
Maintain eye contact. Eye contact will hold a reporter's attention and will make you look confident.
Be enthusiastic. You have a great issue to talk about. Now, it is time to convey your compelling story to readers, viewers and listeners. Smile when it is appropriate.
Keep your answers succinct. Do not feel compelled to keep talking. When you have covered your message point, stop talking.
Stay away from filling awkward silences. You shouldn't feel nervous when no one is talking. Wait for the reporter to ask you the next question. Remember the rule: if you have covered your message point, stop talking.
Control the interview. You can steer the content of your interview. Remember your core message points and gently shift back to them in all of your answers. Be familiar with the Frequently Asked Questions. If a reporter asks a question you cannot or will not answer, you might say, "I can't address that issue, but I can tell you..." or "That is interesting, the issue here is " If the reporter's question is vague, do not be afraid to ask for some clarification.
Remember NOTHING is "off-the-record." If you do not want it printed or broadcast, do not say it. Assume from the moment you pick up the phone or walk into an interview that everything you say can and WILL be quoted.
Never say "No comment." It makes you look guilty and untrustworthy. If you cannot comment on a point, emphasize what you CAN say and return to your message points.
Do not repeat negative words or inaccurate facts included in a reporter's question. Simply correct the inaccuracies and shift to an appropriate message point.

Special Tips for Radio and Television Broadcast Interviews

Use a conversational tone. Avoid reading from your notes. This technique will go a long way toward keeping you relaxed and building a rapport between you and the reporter.
Use your voice. Remember to change your tone to emphasize your message points. By using inflection, you can make the key ideas stand out.
Keep your answers brief. The average broadcast sound bite is 10-15 seconds. Stick to your message points and then stop talking.
Do not be afraid to start your response over again. If the interview is taped, your answer can be edited. This, however, is not the case with a live interview. If you must, correct yourself and move on.

Television Interviews

Wear the right clothes. Women should avoid wearing elaborate jewelry, neon-bright colors, white or clothing with repeating patterns. Men should not wear white or striped shirts or neon-bright colored ties.
Sit or stand naturally. If you are sitting at a desk, keep your arms on the tabletop and do not tap your hands. If you are standing face to face with the reporter, keep your feet about shoulder-width apart and your hands at your side. If you are seated, do not swivel in the chair or sway.
Never look directly at the camera. Keep eye contact with the reporter. Looking away or averting your eyes connotes that you are uncomfortable or untrustworthy. There is no need to talk down to the microphone; it will pick up your voice.
Be careful about nodding your head. It implies that you agree with what a reporter may be saying. Also, refrain from waving your arms during an interview. The camera angle is probably not wide enough to capture your movements.
Remain upbeat. Smiling when it is appropriate makes you more attractive on camera, even during a stressful interview. Stay focused and positive.
Consider wearing make-up or powder on your face. The bright lights of television will make you look paler than you are normally. If you are offered powder, take advantage of it. Avoid looking shiny on television.