Scientists interact with journalists during a AAAS Annual Meeting press conference. | Boston Atlantic Photographic
Radio and TV interviews can be exciting, but they require a little more preparation than interviews for print stories. Practice speaking slowly, enunciating, making eye contact, and other non-verbal behavior/body language, to help you sound and look natural on the radio or TV.
Preparing for an interview
- Be responsive to requests. Because radio and television news programs are broadcast many times throughout the day, and may be posted online in advance of a broadcast, reporters' deadlines are urgent. If you are asked for an interview, tell the reporter yes or no as quickly as possible. Plan to meet with the reporter in person, if possible, allowing them to capture better-quality sound.
- Ask about the story. Talk with the reporter about the interview before it starts and find out what their story is about and who the audience is. Find out what kinds of questions the reporter will ask and prepare your responses. Not all reporters share questions in advance. If this is the case, think about what questions might come up and prepare relevant talking points.
- Radio: Jot down the two or three points you want to make, and use the notes as a reminder when you answer the reporter's questions. Be flexible and natural, using notes as a guide. Don't read notes word-for-word, as this sounds unnatural on the airwaves.
- TV: Practice speaking in front of a mirror or colleague, or film yourself on your computer or phone. Smile, and try to keep your facial expression calm; make small, natural gestures with your arms.
- Is it live? Find out in advance whether the interview is edited or live. Live interviews require comfort with thinking quickly and responding off the cuff. Practice with a colleague before doing a live interview.
- Wear plain clothes. Dark clothes look best on TV. Avoid checkers, stripes, plaids, or other designs, as they can cause problems with color TV pictures. Avoid large, jangling, or reflective jewelry.
- Arrive early. Arrive at least 15 minutes before an interview if it is taking place in a studio, but remember that flexibility is the rule when dealing with television reporters. They may arrive early or late because they are preparing stories back-to-back.
During an interview
- Speak slowly and clearly. Use short but complete phrases and keep answers brief. Restate questions instead of saying “yes” or “no.” Enunciate. Use familiar terms. Pause between thoughts during taped interviews, allowing editors to cut snippets from your interview.
- Use sound bites. Prepare “sound bites,” or concise statements, that writers and editors can easily insert into a story. Be sure to use any pre-prepared three-point messages in sound bites to ensure key messages get across. For taped interviews, editors often cut interviewees’ remarks down to several seconds. A typical sound bite is 8 to 15 seconds. A long radio story is 45 seconds and a typical TV story is about 80 seconds.
- Be patient. Reporters may ask a similar question over and over to get different, and perhaps more interesting, responses. Though a taped interview may last for a long time, much of it likely will not be used. Stick to core messages and answer each question as if it is the only answer that will make it to the air. If a reporter asks a multi-part question, answer the part that best addresses the topic at hand, and connect the answer to your core messages whenever possible.
- Try again. During a taped interview, ask for a “do-over” as needed to make answers as concise and complete as possible.
- Stay on-topic. Don't repeat a reporter's negative or irrelevant question or phrasing, as it may end up in the story. If a reporter asks a negative question, decline to answer it or pivot back to your core messages using phrases such as “It’s important to focus on the key question here, which is…”
Radio interview tips
- Go to a quiet space. When doing a radio interview by telephone, choose a quiet location away from printers, elevator noise, humming air conditioning units, or other background noises that may distract. Use a land-line when possible for better sound quality. Turn off phone and computer notifications.
- Sit – or stand – up straight. Posture often comes across in audio. Consider standing or walking to sound more conversational.
TV interview tips
- Check your appearance. Before sitting down for a television interview, check to ensure clothes are neat and straight and teeth are clean. Reporters are focused on doing their jobs and may not point out any problems.
- Sit – or stand – up straight. Stand comfortably and alert — with hands at your sides. If seated, sit forward and erect. If sitting at a desk, keep hands visible. If sitting on a couch or in a casual chair, keep handles relaxed, not clasped.
- Look at the reporter. During a TV interview, look at the reporter, not the camera. The only exception is in a satellite interview, when the reporter or anchor may not be on location. Ask where to look if it’s not clear. Maintain eye contact, rather than shifting your eyes, when answering, to avoid looking untrustworthy.
- Pay attention to gestures. For example, a nodding head indicates agreement, so avoid doing so unless appropriate. Use natural gestures. Don't tap the table or chair, and be aware of other nonverbal behaviors/body language.
After an interview
- Stay “on.” If a TV reporter asks to chat while the camera operator shoots "B" roll (non-interview footage or cutaway shots used to round out a visual story), be sure body language and comments are appropriate. Always assume that anything said might end up in the interview, regardless of what the reporter or camera operator says.
- Review for next time. Obtain a recording of the final broadcast if possible and think of ways to improve in the future.