How to Cope With The Media
Non-Confrontational Radio and TV Interviews
Most of the following information was kindly provided by Alun Lewis and Adrian Pickering of LP Media training. Alun may also be familiar to you from his time on the BBC Radio Science Unit.
Please note that although some of what could be said below can apply to all interviews it is really in the main designed to help you in non-confrontational interviews.
When the interview is likely to be confrontational or about a controversial area there is instead one simple rule of thumb to apply before doing anything else:- PHONE THE PRESS OFFICE ON EXT 23708 - WE ARE THERE TO HELP!!
Dos and Don'ts when giving a radio interview
Before the interview
Remember you have been given a chance to tell the audience what it is that you do and hence to justify your work. The reporters, presenters or producers are on your side - they too want an interesting item for their programme. So think of it as a joint venture to entertain and inform the audience.
You are the expert so you should not need to prepare too much. Decide what are the two or three most important aspects of what you are going to discuss. It is important to think up useful analogies and work them out in detail. Think how to express things in everyday terms such as "suitcase-sized", "size of a matchbox", "as big as a car" and so on.
Decide what you are going to cover in advance with the help of interviewer/producer. Work out a logical sequence to the story in your own mind but do not expect the interviewer to stick exactly to plan. Although, you can always ask what the first question is going to be, i.e., what your cue will be. This is very important in a live interview. From the first answer onwards the interviewer may diverge from the plan because it's supposed to be a conversation. This is usually a good sign because the interviewer has understood what you are saying and is responding by being interested. So to make the short conversation flow, work out in your mind the key points of the story you are going to tell and the links between each step.
State in simple and dramatic terms the problem you have solved. Most people will not be aware that there was a problem in the first place. In live interviews and for short news items the presenter will probably state the problem that you have addressed by way of an introduction, but don't let that stop you re-stating the problem in a few dramatic words. Then explain how you are solving it. Tell the audience what is original in your work and don't be afraid to say that your work is at the forefront - if it is. Again, these points should be thought through before the interview.
By all means make brief notes - perhaps a list of topics with key words, but do not read them. Unless you are an experienced script-reader any reading will sound dull and impersonal.
If you feel you need to practice, talk to a family member or even the next door neighbour, but not someone who is familiar with your subject matter.
During the interview
Live interviews cannot be edited. This is their distinguishing feature. Recorded interviews should be as close to a live one as possible since editing is time consuming and expensive. The producer will love a good, direct interview that requires little or no editing - and will call you again!
Be bold. Say it straight out without qualification. Resist being precise or pedantic over unnecessary details. Digressions and qualifications are unlikely to be broadcast and make the job of editing harder. In the extreme they can get a potentially good interview consigned to the bin!
Do not give a lecture. The interviewer acts in the role of the individual listeners and they want their questions asked and answered. Keep the answer sounding like a conversation and let the interviewer get questions in without it sounding rude. Make it fun! This does not mean you have to trivialise the subject. Above all, sound as if you are interested in your subject.
Do not be afraid to repeat yourself. During a recorded interview, treat each repetition as a fresh explanation and avoid referring back to earlier points.
In prerecorded interviews, do not worry unduly about "ums" and "errs" they can usually be removed during editing. The producer will make you sound fluent and wonderful - that's part of their job!
There will not be time to tell the whole story and mention everyone involved so do not try. Use "I" and "we" or "my team", whichever you think is the most appropriate.
If you think you are not getting the point across then say so. One of the advantages of a recorded interview is that there is an opportunity to re-orient the interview. In a live interview, if you feel the questions reveal that the interviewer is missing the point, you have to be more careful and try to steer the interview back on course.
Dress as you usually do. (NB see note on dress) When you get seated make yourself comfortable and try to behave as you normally do. The presenter/producer may ask you to stop a mannerism that is affecting the listenability of the recording - this could be fiddling with a pen or tapping the table, or saying "yes-yes" as the interviewer is asking their question.
Try listening to yourself in conversation and check whether you have any odd phrases such as saying "Right!" or "OK!" each time you answer a question. Try and control this since such mannerisms attract attention and detract from the message, "OK"?
Remember - If you are talking to a broadcaster, be it a researcher, interviewer or producer, you are being interviewed.
White, S., Evans, P., Mihill, C., and Tysoe, M., "Hitting the Headlines", BPS Books, 1993, ISBN 1854331078.
ESRC, "Pressing home your findings. Media guidelines for ESRC researchers", 1993.
Kaye, M., and Popperwell, A., "Making Radio. A guide to basic radio techniques", Broadside Books, 1992, ISBN 1874092001.
The above is reproduced with the kind permission of Alun Lewis and Adrian Pickering of LP Media
These notes were written by Alun and Adrian principally for Radio but they apply almost entirely to TV as well except in regard to dress. For TV do take time to make sure your appearance will not let you down. Be neat but do not over do it. Do not wear multi-coloured garish clothing that looks fine to the human eye but makes TV cameras think you are some sort of special effect.
Dress in the context of the story, i.e.: do not appear in the latest fashions if you are covering a story on poverty. Do not wear charming pullovers with pictures of Disney characters when you are talking about criminal justice or ethnic cleansing. In short think before you dress that morning "does my clothing jewellery etc fit within the context of the story?".
Scientists will often come across camera crews who wish them to wear stereotypical white lab coats for a shot. This is an essentially harmless request which you should consider complying with unless you consider that it undermines directly the story you are trying to put across.
You may also wish to avoid the more garish shades of blue particularly if the film crew intend to use any special effects in your interview. The colour blue is the key to a TV technology called chromakey used in special effects. It is outdated but it is still sometimes used when a simple special effects shot is needed.