Journalists may be trained to tell your story to the masses, but don’t forget that you are the expert. It’s your responsibility and opportunity to help the media get your message to people who would benefit from learning what you’re working on.
How to feel confident speaking to the media
- Be prepared
- Don’t bury the lead
- Understand why they should care about what you have to say:
- How does your story affect the masses?
- What is the impact on your community?
Preparing is the best way to boost your confidence. This way you’re thinking about the topic, not how nervous you are.
The best way to prepare is to simplify. When you are educated about a certain topic you generally know a lot more about the topic than the people interviewing you. So, don’t jump into the deep end. Step back and understand what your lead is.
Write 1-4 sentences to describe the point of your message.
- What new information are you uncovering?
- Who does it affect?
- How will it affect them?
- What is the greater impact?
- Is there a local angle?
- Can you connect your message to a story that’s in the news?
Be clear so anyone uneducated about the topic can understand your lead.
- Your sentences should be as short as possible.
- Only use simple words.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms.
Reporters will often quote you using 10-seconds or one sentence, so make sure the first 10-seconds says everything you need them to know.
The media is trying to tell a story about you to the masses. Talking to the masses means shifting the way you look at yourself and your work. Your work is likely fascinating to you, but you should never assume that anyone has any idea what you’re talking about.
How do you make sure your media coverage is accurate and valuable?
- Focus on impact.
- How does your story impact the masses?
- What does it mean in layman’s terms?
Did the FDA approve the Gardasil vaccine to prevent Human Papilloma Virus? No. The FDA approved a vaccine that could prevent thousands of people from dying of cancer. The average audience doesn’t know words like “Human Papilloma Virus.” But, they know they don’t want to die. Start with simple sentences, then you can go in depth later.
If you’re an expert on a topic you may not like to simplify your message so much, but you have to lead with the impact so people know why they should listen to you.
When a member of the media asks for an interview, ask them what questions they plan to ask you. They likely won’t share every question because they may not have finished preparing for your interview yet. Or perhaps they will ask you an unexpected question during the interview in response to one of your answers.
Before the interview, write a list of questions you want reporters to ask you. Write your answer in the most concise way as possible. Don’t memorize your responses, just be comfortable with how to answer questions without burying the lead.
At the end of the interview, a journalist may ask if there’s anything else you’d like to add. This is your opportunity to talk about anything they didn’t know to ask. If a journalist doesn’t ask you if you have something to add, you can always tell them you’d like to mention one more thing before the interview ends. This works best for non-live interviews.
Live or Recorded Interviews
If a reporter doesn’t clarify the type of interview they want, you should ask them if it will be live or recorded. There are tons of different types of multimedia stories on different platform these days, but here are the most common ways a reporter will use your interview:
- A journalist will pick which one of your quotes they will include in a text story for a print or digital publication.
- This will not be live. That means there’s less pressure on you because you can start over if you want to re-word your answer.
- If you accidentally say something that is incorrect, you can correct yourself. The reporter wants to be accurate just as much as you do so they’ll be happy you corrected your statement, even if you don’t remember until the end of your interview.
- The journalist may also ask you the same question in different ways until they get a concise quote that the masses will comprehend.
- A journalist will record audio of your interview for radio or the web.
- They can either edit out parts of your interview for sound bites or air the interview in its totality.
- You may ask them if it will be edited so you know if you can stop and start over, or if you should just keep going if you stumble.
- You may want to bring notes to refer to so you remember what you want to talk about. This helps when you’re talking about lots of numbers.
- A journalist will conduct an audio interview live on the radio or the web.
- If your interview is live, everything you say will immediately be aired or streamed to listeners.
- A few outlets have dump buttons, but those are usually only used to bleep out offensive language that could get them fined by the FCC.
- I highly suggest bringing a cheat sheet so you can refer to it during the interview. Even if you don’t use it, having a back-up may make you feel more calm and prepared.
- Make sure you ask the reporter or host how much time they want to chat for.
- Don’t forget URLs or social media accounts if you want the listeners to get more information on your website.
- Show up early. A producer of a live show will get worried if you’re not there at least 15-minutes before your interview. That may lead them to cancel your segment out of fear you won’t show. If a journalist doesn’ tell you when to show up, you should ask them how early you should get there. Most journalists will ask that you arrive 30-minutes before a live interview.
- A journalist will record your interview on video.
- Ask if the pre-recorded interview will be edited or live-to-tape.
- Live-to-tape means they will air or publish everything you say from beginning to end. It will not be live. It will be aired or published sometime after the interview ends.
- An edited interview may allow you to stop and start over to reword your response.
Avoid wearing a white top, especially if you have darker skin. The light reflecting off of your white shirt will force the camera iris to close. This will reduce the detail on your face. The videographers may be able to adjust, but don’t make their jobs any harder because they’re trying to make you look good. Help them. It usually won’t be this bad, but it could end up looking something like this:
You may also want to think twice about a white blouse because bright TV lights may make your shirt look extra see-through.
You can also help make the video look better by not wearing tight patterns because they jump around on screen like this:
The videographer will likely clip a small lavalier microphone to your lapel or top. Avoid wearing really big necklaces that may hit the microphone. Also, avoid touching the microphone because it will make a loud noise and the soundbite will likely be unusable.
So what are you supposed to wear?
- Solid colors look best.
- Don’t forget to iron, steam or dry clean your clothes. Pay particular attention to your collar. Wrinkles may not be so bad in real life, but HD cameras may make them look worse.
- Avoid wearing clothes that are too big for you. If you’re deciding between a fitted outfit and a loose one, I suggest the fitted one. Regardless of your size or shape, fitted clothes tend to look more professional on camera.
Where should you look?
In most instances, you should ignore the cameras and just look at the reporter or host.
If you’re doing an on-camera interview over satellite, Skype or FaceTime you should look directly at the camera. If you’re able to see yourself on a monitor, avoid the urge to look at yourself because it looks like you’re disengaged.
Before the interview:
Take a quick look in a mirror or your cell phone camera to check:
- Your hair
- Your clothes
- Your necklace or tie
- Your collar
- Your teeth
Hopefully, the host, reporter, videographer or floor director will give you a heads up if your clothes are crooked or if you have lipstick on your teeth, but sometimes they don’t catch it before it’s too late. Not only will it be a bit of a bummer for you, but a small detail like that may make it less likely for people to share or re-air your interview. That means you and your message will get less exposure.
Take a tour
If your interview will be at a TV studio, take a tour. One way to shake your nerves about going on TV is to visit the station before your interview. If you have time, just ask if someone at the station will give you a tour. Most TV stations give free tours, you just have to ask. This way, you’ll know your way around and not stress about having a hard time finding the place. Going behind the scenes may also take some of the suspense out of it so you can focus on the reason you’re doing an interview.
Questions you should ask the interviewer
We went over some of these briefly, but let’s put them all in one place so you can refer to this list the next time a reporter calls you for an interview:
- Who are you? Get their name, the name of the news organization for which they work, and whether they cover a particular topic or beat.
- Can you tell me about the story you’re working on?
- Are you approaching this story from any particular perspective?
- Who else are you interviewing?
- What’s the format? Print, TV, live, pre-taped, etc.
- What do you need from me? Ask the reporter how much time the interview will last and where the reporter wants to conduct the interview. Also, ask if you can provide any press releases, graphics, photos, videos, or other supplementary documents. You can often expand your presence in a news story—and influence the narrative—if the reporter chooses to use your supporting materials.
- Who will be doing the interview? For many radio and television interviews, you will be contacted initially by an off-air producer rather than by an on-air personality. Ask for the name of the person conducting the interview.
- When are you publishing or airing the story? Review the story as soon as it comes out. If it’s a positive story, share it with your online and offline networks. If it’s a negative story, consider issuing a response or contacting the reporter or editor to discuss the coverage.
- Can you please send me your story when it’s done? Many journalists are so busy they often forget to send you the story after it airs or is published. This is very common, so don’t feel bad. Just ask them to send it to you. You may need this for your own professional development file to help you showcase your community engagement, so make sure you ask right away. Download and/or screengrab the interview because you don’t want to trust that the website will be there forever. If the video is posted on YouTube, you can use a free ripper like YTD to download your video file and keep it safe.
You can find more tips like these in “The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.”
- Talk to yourself in the mirror so you become comfortable with your facial expressions and body language.
- Record yourself on your phone or camera and watch it back. You may notice you say “um” too often. Or maybe you’re talking too fast. Or maybe you’re perfect and you have nothing to worry about. Either way, it’s a good habit to practice in front of a camera, even when it’s your own.
Being put on the spot may feel natural to some, but most people struggle with getting up in front of people or cameras. The number one step to battle your anxiety is to understand where it comes from. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal does a great job of explaining how to use your stress. When speaking in public or in front of cameras, use your adrenaline to give you energy on stage. Recognize that your pounding heart, sweaty palms and quick breath are actually a result of excitement, not anxiety. So get excited because public speaking is fun!
In her TED Talk, McGonigal explains why to view your stress response as helpful:
- Your body is preparing you to meet a challenge.
- If your heart is pounding, you’re getting more oxygen to your brain.
- How you think about your stress could make you feel joy, instead of pressure.
Watch this video to better understand why you get stressed, and turn that stress into power:
A few extra tips
- During the interview, avoid using the words “again” or “like I said.” It comes off as arrogant and rude especially when the thing you said may be edited out of the final product. It also makes it harder for the journalists to edit your audio or video, so they’re likely to ditch it and not use your quote at all.
- If you’re using notes, avoid shuffling or touching the paper because the microphone may pick up that noise. This may also lead to your sound bite not making the cut.
- Turn off your cell phone ringer. This is especially important for live audio or video interviews. Shut off the vibration on your phone.
- Spit out your gum.
- Have water handy.
- Avoid being sarcastic and/or defensive.
- A journalist will not give you the power to approve their story before it’s published, but you may want to offer to help fact-check. Some journalists can get territorial because they’re trying to be objective so this is a non-threatening and helpful way to make sure your story is accurate, “If you want help confirming any facts in your story, I’m happy to be of service.”
- If the reporter asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s OK to say you don’t know. Offer to find the answer for them later or connect them with someone who may be able to help.
- Offer visuals or links with relevant information.
- Some journalists are just looking for you to share objective facts. But many would love for you to open up and share intimate details about yourself. For example, if you’re trying to find a cure for the cancer that killed your own mother, that personal detail is huge. A personal angle will often give your story better coverage. The reason is that personal stories evoke more emotion in readers, viewers, and listeners. If the audience feels more emotion during the story, the story is more likely to be memorable. If the story itself will have a greater impact on the audience, producers will showcase your story, and web producers will place it in a more prominent space on the website or app.
How to give better sound bites and quotes
The best sound bites and quotes include analogies and metaphors because it makes your message relatable and easy to understand. Think of a clever way to explain your message.
Want more media coverage?
Don’t wait for reporters to come to you
Getting media coverage will help educate the public and boost your professional brand. Don’t wait for reporters to come to you, go to them first. If you share helpful information with reporters on a regular basis, they’ll be more likely to turn to you if they ever need an interview. You can send them emails about newsworthy events in your field. You can also tag them on social media.
Engage with reporters on social media
Social media engagement is incredibly valuable for news organizations. Likes, shares and comments are currency for journalists nowadays. If you follow, friend and like a journalist that will increase their chances of getting a raise at their job. Do not underestimate the power of social media engagement. If applicable, follow and engage with a journalist on:
That means you should like, share, and comment on their stories. You can also direct message them with story ideas. You should also publicly compliment journalists. Media managers spend a lot of their time analyzing their employee’s social media accounts. Here’s an example of a short and sweet social media compliment:
Thank you @WFLARod for taking the time to shed light on #HPV in your story about the Gardasil vaccine. Here’s a link to a local clinical trial underway at Moffitt to study HPV in men: https://www.moffitt.org/take-charge/take-charge-story-archive/vaccination-could-prevent-reinfection-in-men-with-hpv/
Urgency is key
If you want media coverage, a journalist needs to know you have a sense of urgency. Most reporters don’t have enough time to do their jobs, so you need to be available immediately. If they call, text or email you, respond right away, or they’ll find someone else.
Know of an anniversary relevant to your field that’s coming up? Don’t wait until the day of, or worse, the day after. Reach out to a news organization to let them know at least a week ahead of time. You can tag an organization on social media and contact their assignment desk.
The assignment desk is a great resource for media organizations. You can find their phone number and email address on every TV station website. Oftentimes, you can find it under newsroom contact info. Call them up.
Network with journalists in person
Join journalist associations like the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists. Organizations like these frequently host forums and community meetings. Show up.
You can also invite a journalist to be a moderator at an event you’re hosting. Journalists are great at asking questions. They’re also good at taking control of conflict if disputes arise on stage.
Did you attend a journalist organization event or invite a journalist to be a moderator? Don’t forget to take photos and videos of them, post them on social media and tag them right away.