How to Speak to the Media
- Think of the three points you wouldn’t want anyone to miss. Write them down – no more than one sentence per point – and memorize them
- Research your audience, both the interviewer and the outlet’s readership
- Know your positioning in the broader debate
- Identify potential negatives and tough questions before you arrive and practice answering them with your three points
Concisely deliver your message
- Lead with the one thing everyone should know if they know nothing else
- Give one or two points as background, but only if necessary
- Don’t repeat the charge or question; if the interviewer says something inflammatory, pivot to your point without repeating theirs
- Make your point and stop talking; resist the urge to fill the silence
- Don’t lie: if you don’t know the answer, don’t ever guess, just tell them you will get back to them later
Contextualize the conversation
- Storytelling: use stories to flesh out your message and argument
- Statistics: important, but use sparingly and only for illustrating a point
Control the Interview
- Signal or flag your most important takeaways so the audience knows to pay attention. Do this by using the following types of phrases:
“The bottom line is...”
“The one thing you need to know about this issue is...”
"The biggest problem is...”
“There are two major reasons why you should care about this...”
- Bridge or pivot from the question to your message:
“That’s a great question, but the most important thing to know here is...”
“I’ll look into that, but it’s also true that...”
- Prepare and practice
- Don’t psych yourself out; you don’t need an overwhelming mastery of the entire subject matter to effectively deliver your message
Tips for specific media:
Print media is the most common form that you will encounter. Always remember that the person you are communicating with is not the reporter, but the person who will be reading the story the next day. Make sure you are quoted accurately and always repeat your message a few different times.
- Talk slowly and assume everything you say is on the record
- Be a resource for reporters – share your knowledge with them
- Be personable and personal – build a relationship
Radio interviews are a great way to tell your story to a wide audience. But always remember that people will be listening to not only what you say, but also how you say it.
Remember to modulate your voice and be expressive, always speak at a normal volume and avoid speaking in monotone.
- Stress key points by raising your intensity level and your pitch, not your voice!
- Keep your notes in front of you to remind you of your message points and key facts
- Use words to create an image or paint a picture of your issue: if you’re talking about families in detention, describe the conditions for the listener.
When doing television interviews, always remember that it is your job to get your message across; it’s the reporter and producer's job to make compelling television. The two aren’t always in opposition. Always ask the producer where to look and look at the same place throughout the interview. More tips:
- Keep good posture: sit up or stand up straight
- Speak in short, quotable sound bites; aim for 20-30 seconds at a time
- don't speak too quickly
- be genuine, credible, and confident
- avoid excessive or distracting hand gestures and pause words (um, uh, like..)
Types of TV (and radio) Interviews
Live interviews are being seen by the public as they are filmed. Focus on bridging and flagging to get your core message to break through.
Taped interviews are likely to be edited before being seen by the public. Focus on flagging. If you make a mistake, stop and start over. Tell the producer you’d like to do another take.
Protecting sources is a key element of journalistic ethics, and sometimes you need to talk to reporters without going public with what you're saying.
You must give reporters notice about the status of what you are going to say before you say it, and you must get their verbal agreement before journalistic ethics are considering binding. Always remember, even with these guidelines, reporters can decide to break them.
● Telling the reporter something is “not for attribution” or “on background” means that the reporter can use the information you give them, but you cannot be sourced as the specific individual who said it. The reporter may ask to describe you with a descriptive phrase that telegraphs your credibility without identifying you specifically.
● Telling the reporter something is “off the record” means that what you are saying should never be attributed to you in any form.
● Anything that isn't explicitly deemed "on background" or "off the record" is, by default, considered "on the record" – fair game for the journalist to use.
These materials were adapted from our friends at Megaphone Strategies.
Last updated August 9, 2018