Media Advice: Interview Techniques
Giving an interview can be a daunting experience, and it is vital that your presentation is clear and your message understood. This is especially true of the broadcast media, because unlike in print viewers and listeners will be able to see and hear any mistakes or uncertainty.
What is the interview about? You should be told why they want to interview you, how long it will last and what form the interview will take. If you’re not told, ask. Interviewers may try to shift the subject of an interview, so do not assume that you will only be asked questions on the stated topic.
Find out if others will be commenting too and anticipate what they will say.
If you have the option do the interview in a studio rather than at home - you will be sharper and more attentive and the quality of your voice will be better for the audience.
Know what you want to communicate, and try to boil it down to a single soundbite. Reiterate your point several times in different ways. You will not be given much space or time. That means you must get your points across in a punchy, quotable way.
Use notes, including a memory-jogger of any facts you wish to quote.
You don’t have to answer every question. Watch politicians - they usually sidestep questions and keep making their point. If you are presented with an irrelevant question, steer it back to your soundbite.
Try not to be forced on to the defensive - eg. drunk cyclist kills self by riding into wall. The journalist wants to blast, even make fun of cyclists who drink. Instead put the story into perspective. You don’t condone his action, of course, but how many others is he putting at risk by drink-cycling compared to the consequences of drink-driving? And what about drunk pedestrians meandering into roads at chucking out time? Think damage limitation and turning the story around in instances like this.
If the interview is being pre-recorded, the best tactic is to stop the interview, forcing them to re-record and giving you thinking time. Rehearsing your points with someone taking the role of the interviewer can help. Try to anticipate questions (see below for some common ones) and have answers ready.
Beware of having words put into your mouth. ‘The A123 is so busy it’s too dangerous for many cyclists isn’t it?’ ‘Well yes but….’ Headline: Cycling is too dangerous.
Try not to let cyclists be put in a box. We’re all human beings to most of us also drive, walk, catch buses, trains....
Prepare well and have three key points you want to get across straight away. You won’t have more than a couple of minutes and part of that will be taken up with introductions and questions from the interviewer. Never hold a key point back for later – it might be too late.
Be calm, reasonable and altruistic - don’t get drawn into am antagonistic blame game. Controversy may equal news, but don’t be drawn into conflicts to feed the media’s needs. If faced with an irate interviewer or guest just remain calm. It may be difficult, but the audience will have more respect for you than if you wade in.
Don’t make up policy on the hoof. You could end up looking stupid and splitting your group. Stay on message, remember your soundbites, and remain focused.
Don’t dwell on negative aspects; acknowledge them but be positive. If you are asked about cycling in the rain, you could respond by saying "According to the Met Office, there are only 52 days in the average year which are defined as 'rainy'."
Live interviews prevent points being edited out - but be careful not to libel anyone.
Stay calm. Broadcasting can be nerve-wracking, but get things in perspective - you’re not going to be recognised in the street afterwards. If you are nervous, rehearsal can give you confidence and some people find that deep breathing helps.
Don’t be afraid of pauses. Don’t gabble. Refer to your notes if stuck, but try not to look down too much - it can make you look shifty.
Radio stations often interview on the phone, so make sure you’re ready at the arranged time and that there is no background noise.
Dress appropriately and be prepared to play ‘suits’ at their own game. Dress smartly for TV - British audiences are a conservative lot and will be more likely to listen if you are conservatively dressed. If you wear Lycra then you know only too well the stereotype that will be applied. Even if you are being interviewed for radio, it will make you look professional, and make journalists more likely to call on you again.
Don’t be scared of microphones - they improve your voice! Sit/stand at hand’s length away and don’t provide the audience with any distraction – shuffling papers, a twitch, fiddling with a pen.
Look at the interviewer and don’t get distracted by movements behind them. The viewer will want to know what you are looking at.
What do you sound or look like yourself? What would you think of an interviewee looking/sounding like you? Would you be struck by their scruffiness? Would something else distract you so that you didn’t take in what they said? What impression are you creating?
You represent a serious transport option so don’t let journalists trivialise you. Don’t wobble into the studio on a penny-farthing to talk about targets for vehicle emissions.
Be aware of contrasts - being interviewed on location with your hair and coat blowing around will look unfavourable when they cut back to a calm and collected councilor at a desk.
Be aware of what you want to say and be sensitive to what you are saying - make sure the two are the same.