Preparing For TV & Radio Interviews

Your media relations campaign has paid off and you've been asked to appear as a guest on a TV or radio program. The following information should help you prepare for a TV or radio guest appearance.

Gather Background Information
First and foremost, learn all you can about the reporter or interviewer. What is their style? Are they experienced or knowledgeable about your field of expertise?

Secondly, learn all you can about the media program. What is the program's reputation? Is the show known for its cutting-edge reports? What are the demographics of the show's audience? What's the format (talk show, news, or variety show) of the program? Is the program a call-in show? Is there a studio audience? Knowing what to expect will go a long way toward helping you prepare for the interview - and will help calm your stage fright.

Ask the producer, reporter or interviewer - whoever is setting up the interview - the following questions prior to your appearance:

  • What's the topic of the interview? Why was it chosen?
    Most producers choose timely topics or topics of general interest to their audience. (A timely topic is something that's in the news now or in sync with the season. A topic of general interest may be interesting at any time, such as cooking tips for those who are interested in gourmet cooking.) Make relevant suggestions to the producer, reporter or interviewer to highlight your latest accomplishment, proposal or plan. For example, if the topic is entrepreneurs and home-based businesses, let your contact know about a recent contract you won that you will be working on from home.

  • Will the interviewer pull relevant information from other sources during the interview?
    Prep yourself on what the interviewer will know. Try to see this from their point-of-view and determine what types of questions will be asked. Understand from whom and from where they'll obtain information. Make yourself a source of information. Provide the interviewer with your biography and company information (press kit, brochures) well in advance. If possible, include any public relations information your company has already produced, such as video tapes or publicity photographs for TV, and audio tapes for radio. If you will be part of a panel, find out who the other panelists will be and the points they will be making. Keep an eye on the current events.

  • How long will the interview last?
    Knowing the length of the interview will help you better prepare your answers to anticipated questions. Will you be interviewed for three or 20 minutes? The shorter the interview the more critical it is that you condense your main messages into sound bites of 10 to 20 seconds.

  • Is the interview live?
    Live interviews may require more practice and preparation on your part - there won't be any "retakes" if you stutter, misspeak or fail to make your point. If the interview isn't live, will the recorded interview be edited? If it is recorded but not edited, prepare as you would for a live interview.

  • Where will the interview be conducted?
    If the interviewer or reporter is coming to your location, create a visually enhancing environment to help project a positive image and emphasize your message. Use props or stage a working environment or situation to illustrate your professionalism and expertise. For example, if you own and operate a flower shop, you might choose to be interviewed in front of your employees arranging flowers or a beautiful display of your work.

Prepare Your Message
While you may know your business, your industry - and certainly yourself - inside out, your best chance for a successful interview lies in preparation.

  • Prepare and outline the specific points or objectives you wish to make. Draft concise, to-the-point statements, or sound bites, that highlight these points.
  • Prepare concise and effective opening and closing statements - they're often the most remembered statements you will make.
  • Remember to illustrate and explain your points with examples. Use analogies, related stories and personal experiences to help the interviewer and audience understand your point of view.
  • Practice delivering your sound bites and examples in a mock interview with a colleague or friend or even in front of a mirror. Your goal is to answer anticipated questions quickly, clearly and naturally.
  • Practice delivering each of your answers in under 20 seconds. Time your answers.
  • Outline your points and examples on note or index cards and have them close by during the interview.
  • Bring extra copies of your biography, company information (press kit if you have one) and audio or video tapes with you to the studio. (Remember, you've already sent information to the reporter in preparation for the interview.)
  • Arrive at least 30 minutes early for interviews held at a studio.
  • Arrange to meet the interviewer or reporter before the program and ask how you will address each other during the program. (Speaking to each other on a first name basis is best.)

Do's and Don'ts For Delivering Your Message:

Do's Don'ts

Be yourself. Be natural.

Maintain your composure at all times.

Seat yourself comfortably.

Check your appearance on the TV monitor beforehand, if possible.

Adjust and test any equipment before the program begins.

If you are speaking into a microphone, maintain a distance of at least six inches.

Assume that you will be on the air for each and every second of the program. (Don't make a gesture or say something you don't want broadcast.)

Assume that anything you say to the reporter could be brought into the interview, even if it's a casual remark made during a pre-taping chat.

Keep the real, at-home audience in mind. Direct your remarks to them.

Speak only as a representative for your organization and not from a personal viewpoint.

Try to limit your answers to about three sentences.

Finish answering each question completely in the order in which they were asked.

Don't look at the monitor during the interview.

Don't use any high-tech language or industry jargon. Speak in lay terms.

Never say "no comment." (It sounds as if you have something to hide.)

Avoid saying anything you may regret. Don't answer personal questions or divulge confidential material. Instead provide the interviewer with an explanation: "That information is confidential and I'm not a liberty to discuss it at this time."

Don't get into an argument. Never become defensive or angry.

Don't speak for someone who isn't present.

Don't let any misleading statements trap you. Make your disagreement or uncertainty known immediately.

Don't assume that any statistics are going to be correct. If you are uncertain, answer accordingly, "That may or may not be true. I'd like to see a copy of that report."

Never offer any information "off the record" or "just between you and me." Don't say anything you don't want on the evening news.

Follow Up After the Interview
As with any media relations campaign or event, follow up is helpful in developing a solid relationship with reporters. Send a personal note to the program's reporter or interviewer and copy the producer of the program. In your note, include:

  • your gratitude for the opportunity
  • a report on reactions from those who saw or heard the program
  • your offer to serve as a source of information for future programs
  • any ideas you may have for future program topics

Looking Your Best on Television
There are a few guidelines that will help you put your best foot forward and ensure that the viewing audience focuses on your message and not on your pocket scarf.

Clothing - What should I wear?

  • Bright, solid colors look best on camera. Choose rich colors such as a royal or deep navy blue, hunter or kelly green, deep purple, chestnut brown or maroon.
  • Choose smart, tailored, business-like attire like suits, dresses and pantsuits. Be a professional.
  • Avoid red, white, ivory and light pastel colors in dresses, jackets and suits. These colors, however, are fine for blouses (under a jacket), ties and scarves. Hint: If you have a few days' notice, watch what female TV news anchors wear.
  • Avoid small, busy patterns, such as small plaids, tiny checks, mini-stripes and paisley patterns.
  • Don't wear any shiny fabrics.
  • Don't wear overpowering scarves or ties.
  • Avoid wearing large amounts or large dangling pieces of shiny jewelry, including necklaces, earrings and pins. (Unless, of course, you're the jewelry designer!) Choose dull finished jewelry or pearls instead.

Hair and Make Up Tips

  • If offered the services of a make-up professional at a studio, take them up on it. Professionals understand how to make any skin type look good through a camera's eye.
  • Wear your makeup as you normally would for every day. Avoid overdoing it.
  • Brush on some loose powder to help eliminate shine.
  • Choose a long-wearing matte lipstick.
  • Even if you normally don't wear make up, powder and lipstick will help you avoid looking "washed out" by the bright lights.
  • Consider a hairstyle that emphasizes your face and doesn't hide it.