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CDC's Injury Center 20th Anniversary:Tips and Tools for Working with the Media

Preparing for the Interview

Now that you’ve successfully pitched your story, it’s time to prepare for the interview. When your spokesperson is scheduled for an interview, follow the proper guidelines for that media outlet, whether print or broadcast. Broadcast interviews require more preparation than print interviews, because they are often recorded live with little or no time for editing. For that reason, much of this section will focus on broadcast interviews.

It is up to you and your staff to make sure your spokesperson(s) is ready for media interviews. The person(s) to be interviewed should be authoritative and credible source(s) and prepared for appearances. He or she should practice answering interview questions, especially aggressive, rapid-fire inquiries. Spokespersons also must make messages and anecdotes a part of their thinking process so their answers sound natural.

Lights, Camera, and Action!

The following tips will prepare your spokesperson to go live:

  • When your spokesperson arrives at the TV or radio station, ask whether the staff will be using hand signals. If so, find out which ones will be helpful for you and your spokesperson to know.
  • For both radio and TV interviews, find out what type of microphone will be used. For example, a tiny lapel clip-on presents no problem, but a large old fashioned microphone that sits on a stand has limited pickup range.
  • If the spokesperson must use notes on a radio show, use small index cards to avoid the sound of shuffling paper during the interview.
  • Provide the spokesperson with a list of sample questions and answers in advance that they can review. (Note: reporters will not usually share their questions in advance.)
  • People have a tendency to talk fast once TV cameras are on. Teach the spokesperson to slow down and pause between sentences.
  • If you want your spokesperson to mention your website, get an OK from the station in advance.
  • In TV interviews, wearing the wrong clothes and colors can undermine the spokesperson’s credibility. Have your spokesperson wear medium tones of gray, brown, or blue. Wear off-white or pastel shades for shirts and blouses. Avoid distracting stripes, checks, or sharply contrasted patterns that distract the audience.
  • Avoid highly polished gold and silver jewelry or large diamonds and rhinestones. The items reflect studio lights and distort the picture.
  • In general, interviewees should wear regular makeup in natural tones. Women should use eye shadow sparingly.

The National Association of Broadcasters offers several suggestions to make a spokesperson’s TV appearance more effective. Provide these tips to your spokespersons prior to an interview.

  • Avoid unnecessary movements and gestures. They distract from the interview.
  • Look, listen, and speak to the host talking to you — unless there is something you need to say directly to the TV audience. In that case, look directly into the camera.
  • If the interview takes place in the studio, resist the temptation to look at yourself on the TV monitor. It distracts the viewer.
  • If the spokesperson’s throat feels tight, relax it by stretching and yawning or by drinking a warm beverage before going on the air.

Checklist: Are You Ready to Introduce the Initiative to the Media?

  • Do you have a list of main points you want your spokespersons to cover in an interview (you can use the talking points included in this guide as a model)?
  • If you are using a local celebrity as a spokesperson, have you made sure the person is free of negative publicity related to their personal and professional lives?
  • Is your news angle clearly highlighted in your pitch letter?
  • If you want your spokespersons to mention your website in an interview, did you reach an agreement with the station in advance?
  • Have you made a list of visual possibilities before pitching a story to a TV station?