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10 things to do ahead of a media interview

  1. Ask how the interview is going to be used. Find out from the journalist what programme, channel or feature the article will appear in. Get them to tell you whether it will be just a soundbite or a sizeable chunk. Some pre-recorded interviews will be used in a number of ways. A number of short excerpts (cuts) may be taken for news bulletins while a longer section might appear in a news programme or even online. Find out what the article is trying to achieve. If it is for a programme like BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’, it is likely to be a serious piece of journalism where some tough questions are asked. If it is for a mid-afternoon show on a local radio station, it might not be as serious, or there may be a phone-in connected with it.
  2. Ask what questions will be asked of you. Some journalists will give you an idea of the sort of questions you are going to be asked – especially if the item is live on-air. Many others do not like giving questions ahead of an interview. Be aware that even if they do give you the questions, many are likely to ask additional questions once the ‘safe’ ones have been asked.
  3. Prepare yourself. Get a friend or colleague to role-play the part of an interviewer and give you a ‘Paxoing’ (playing the role of Jeremy Paxman. Get them to really stretch you on questions so that you can discover any holes in your knowledge. Once you have found out what you don’t know – go away and research it.
  4. Prepare your soundbites. Think of three really engaging and useful points of information and construct 15 second soundbites around them. Do not use complicated statistics or information in them. Think of these as the little comments your would ultimately think of as being picked for broadcast. Make them stand out with powerful language.
  5. Ask yourself ‘so what?’ with any of the points you make. This test is to see if it is genuinely of interest to anyone. A lot of what you say might be fascinating to you and your colleagues, but in the context of a national audience, it might mean absolutely nothing.
  6. Ask your self whether what your saying, and how you are saying it, is relevant to the audience of the newspaper, magazine, website, radio station or TV channel that is interviewing you. You want to be using the language used by the audience listening as much as possible. This does not mean using ‘youth language’ for a younger audience (as it will sound embarrassing). What this means is making sure you speak respectfully to the audience without using terminology that will confuse them. This is where some research is useful. Watch, listen to or read previous editions. Find out how news items and features are treated by the journalists. If, for example, your research reveals that the style is a mocking and jokey style, then you might decide it is not worthwhile taking part in the programme or item.
  7. Get someone to record the item on-air so that you can monitor what has been broadcast. If the interview is pre-recorded, then make sure you take a recording device into then interview. This will mean you have a record of what you actually said. If the journalist does not edit the item as you think he or she should and you have a problem with it, then you have some evidence of how the context of your words has been altered.
  8. If you are being interviewed on television, ask the journalist or researcher what clothes they want you to wear. It might be that you turn up wearing a shirt that is too close to another guest’s shirt or that the colour scheme clashes with the sofa! Usually they will suggest more pastel shades without checks and lines. A researcher will often ask you to come with an alternative set of clothes in case there is a problem.
  9. Put some energy into what you say. If you are trying to engage with people, sound like you are passionate about your subject. Use inflected language and powerful words. Do not rush what you say. If you are recorded and all you are doing is plugging something for sale, then the editor might prefer to abandon the item.
  10. If the interview is for television, and especially if it is live – check in the mirror before you go on – and make sure your flies are done up!!!!
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