Tips for an Effective Interview
By Amy Goldsmith, Public Relations Director for RDBA
So you get the call that a reporter wants to talk to you. What do you do? While every interview is unique, the basic skills you use are the same. Whether the topic is controversial or benign, or the interview is for radio, television, a blog or a newspaper, being prepared is the key. Below is a list of Do’s and Don’t’s when working with the media. Keep this list handy and review it before an interview. Good luck!
- DO - Know whom you are talking to. Find out their name and news outlet. Let your public relations or communications director know about the interview and topic. They may have some guidance and corporate issues they will want to review with you.
- DO - Be prepared. Know as much as you can about your topic before the interview. Never go into any interview situation unprepared or without a clear understanding of the topics the reporter will expect to discuss with you. It is completely appropriate to ask the reporter in advance for a list of questions that will be asked during the interview, so you can prepare and rehearse your responses. But keep your answers short - I always say 10-12 seconds. It decreases the chances of being misquoted.
- DON’T – Attempt to do an interview cold. If the reporter wants to do the interview right then on the phone, ask the reporter about his or her deadline and say you’ll call back well before that time. Gather information you need, organize your key messages and practice saying them out loud. Then take a deep breath and call the reporter back
- DON’T - Give out information you know to be untrue or think may be untrue. This could cause serious embarrassment to you and to the company if it is later discovered to be false. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll check and get back to you.” If you are asked a question about an area that is not in your province – say so. Don’t ever try to fake an answer.
- DO - Position yourself as an expert source. Make sure that the reporter knows about your credentials and years of experience.
- DO - Be accessible. Reporters are under constant deadline pressure, so return their calls promptly. Also, never leave a reporter hanging, even if you are unable to answer the question. If you promised to return the call or get back to them with the requested information, this must be done as promptly as possible.
- DO - remember your name. Use your organization’s name whenever possible instead of generic pronouns such as “we.” Avoid using internal nicknames or unfamiliar acronyms.
- DO - Answer one question at a time. Interviewers have a tendency to fire numerous questions all in one breath. Indicate to the interviewer that several questions have been asked, and that you will respond to them one at a time. Don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat a question.
- DON’T - Go “off the record.” There is no such thing. Anticipate that anything you tell a reporter may wind up being printed or broadcast. If you don’t want to read it or hear it, don’t say it!
- DON’T- Say “No Comment.” Even if it’s a controversial question, and you don’t want to go down that path, you can say something like, “I’m not in a position to talk about that, but what I can tell you is…” and think of something positive and interesting to divert their attention elsewhere.
- DON’T – Think of an interview as a conversation. Good reporters do their homework and have a list of questions that they want answered. They will continue to probe until they feel that they have found what they want. Just because a reporter has closed a notebook or turned off a tape recorder, it does not mean that the interview has ended. Sometimes a reporter will say, “OK, we’re finished,” and people let their guard down and say something that is later included in the story.