The Duke University Communications team offers the following tips for print and broadcast interviews:
- If you need help – ask. If you’ve received a call from a reporter and have any questions or concerns about how to respond, contact us at University Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Respond as soon as possible, but don’t feel rushed to talk. Remember that reporters’ deadlines are often measured in minutes; if you agree to be interviewed, you must respond quickly. If a reporter calls and you are caught off-guard or are preoccupied with another task, ask to call back so you can gather your thoughts.
- Identify the reporter. If you agree to an interview, write down the reporter’s name, media outlet and contact information. If you have any doubts about the reporter’s identity or the outlet’s legitimacy, contact University Communications, email@example.com.
- Decide what you want to say. Many academics view their objective in an interview as avoiding saying anything foolish. That’s important, certainly, but you may not accomplish much with such a defensive approach. You should also view the interview as an opportunity to communicate what you want to say.
Before you begin, decide what two or three key points you want to get across, and have both data and human examples ready to highlight each one. Find a way to make these points during the interview, even if the reporter doesn’t ask about them.
- Provide background information. You can help the reporter – and minimize errors – by offering to provide background information on complex topics. This can include material from other sources.
- Prepare for difficult questions. Anticipate difficult questions and prepare responses to them. Never say, “No comment.” Instead, explain why you can’t or won’t answer the question.
- Give simple, direct answers. Be brief. Reporters likely will use short quotes, clips or sound bites. Avoid jargon and explain the topic as simply as possible. It’s best to avoid flippant or joking comments that sound acceptable in conversation but might be taken out of context.
- Nothing is “off the record.” Don’t say anything you don’t want to read in the newspaper or see on the evening news, even when the formal interview seems to have ended and you are just chatting with the reporter.
- Ask questions. Although reporters are unlikely to let you review a story before it’s published or aired, they may let you verify specific information or quotes. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Give feedback. If a reporter makes a major mistake, call the publication and ask for a correction. If the mistake is minor, it may be better to let it go. If you have any questions about whether the issue should be pursued, contact University Communications.
If you feel the story is well done, let the reporter know that, too.
Prepping for an audio interview? Here are some tips to help you sound your best.
- Find a quiet place. The less background noise, the better. This helps ensure fewer distractions, and your message will come across more clearly.
- Determine the context. Will the interview be live or recorded? If live, timing is more important. Your answers need to be brief and should stand alone. If the interview will be recorded, it’s OK to pause or return to earlier points for clarity.
Will there be other guests? If so, take some time to prepare. Do a little background research about the other people who will take part in the discussion.
- Ask about technical requirements beforehand. Does the station or show prefer a cell phone or a land line (if available)? If the interview is taking place over Zoom or Skype, would the interviewer appreciate a local recording on your cellphone or computer as a back-up?
If you’re participating frequently in radio or podcast interviews, it may be worth investing in an inexpensive microphone that can plug into your phone or computer to help improve audio quality (more info on microphone sources is available here).
- Warm up. Have a glass of water before the interview and keep one on hand during the discussion. Honey and warm water can help keep your voice smooth. Avoid drinking milk before an interview.
Before the interview begins, stretch out your lips and jaw. Take some deep breaths.
- Assert key points. If the host or reporter doesn’t ask about an important point, find a way to include it in the discussion. An interview is not a deposition – you are an active participant in the interview and can guide the conversation.
- Thank the host. In advance, think of a few words to say at the end of the interview, so you can exit gracefully and are not caught off-guard at the conclusion. If the segment is live, there may not be much time to end the discussion.