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AEC353 Media Interview Skills for Environmental Education Programs1 Ricky Telg2 1. This document is Fact Sheet AEC353, a series of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: August 2000. Visit the EDIS website at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu 2. Ricky Telg, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida Cooperative Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/University of Florida/Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean. A newspaper reporter has just called you to schedule a mid-afternoon interview for a story that will be in tomorrow's newspaper. What do you do? This fact sheet discusses strategies to help you succeed in presenting yourself in an interview for television, radio or newsprint. Many people assume that being interviewed is as simple as walking into an office or studio and waiting for a reporter to ask questions. However, if you are not fully prepared, both in terms of the content of your presentation and the process what to expect during an interview being interviewed can be a frightening experience. Conversely, if you know your material and feel confident about your ability and appearance, an interview can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Section 1: General interview guidelines The following recommendations are general hints that will give you the tools you need to succeed in most interviews. Going through these steps in a mock news interview setting will help you prepare for the "real thing." (A mock news interview is when someone acts as a reporter and asks you questions that a "real" reporter would ask. You may wish to videotape the mock interview so you can review and critique your performance.) The interview skills described in this section pertain to all forms of media unless otherwise noted at the end of the sentence. Preparation Prepare two to three ideas you want to convey. These are your communication points, the three most important issues or points you hope to address and get across to the reporter during the interview. Make a list of the questions you anticipate being asked. Anticipate issues and questions that may arise during the interview, and be prepared to use those issues to launch your communication points. Know your subject matter well. Have your best answers ready.
Media Interview Skills for Environmental Education Programs 2 Simplicity Make short, simple, and specific statements. Explain your most important point first. Don't stray from the topic. Summarize and then elaborate. (Example: "We have the best organization in the area because our volunteers really care. Let me explain what I mean...") Answering questions Pause after complete statements. The interviewer will appreciate these breaks during the editing process. (Radio and TV) When you think you've answered a question adequately, don't feel compelled to keep talking simply because the interviewer has a microphone up to your mouth. If you're satisfied with your answer, sit in silence. Rambling leads you to say the wrong thing. Do not say the reporter's name in the middle of a sentence; do not use the phrase "as I explained earlier." Example: "We got all of our information in March 1999, John, and as I explained earlier, this will back up our first estimates." The reporter's name and the phrase will be difficult to edit. Also, viewers may not know what you and the reporter have discussed previously, and may not understand what you are referring to. (Radio and TV) Think before you speak. Avoid fillers such as uh, ah, well, yeah, and you know. (Radio and TV) Respond to negative questions with positive responses. Always tell the truth. Your credibility is crucial. Avoid off the record." If you say something to a reporter, expect that it will end up in print. If you don't want it printed, don't say it. Avoid no comment" answers. It sounds as if you have something to hide. Section 2: The games interviewers play Some interviewers can become hostile; others are just uninformed. Don't get caught in an emotional or intellectual game with the interviewer. Following are some interviewer types and question traps and some responses you may want to try. Interviewer types Machine Gunner. Asks so many questions that you dont know which one to answer first. Verbal Bridge: Well, Bob, you've asked several interesting questions. First, I'd like to address..." Interrupter. Jumps in before youve had a chance to complete your response. Verbal Bridge: Let him complete the interruption, then say: Before I answer that, I'd like to complete my thought." Paraphraser. Tries to put words in your mouth; e.g., Do you mean to sit there and tell me there's no problem with..." Verbal Bridge: No, Sarah, that isn't what I said. What I said was..." and repeat your point. Unprepared Interviewer. May have vague questions or require you to provide a lot of background before you can get to your key message. Verbal Bridge: Take the opportunity to steer the interview in the direction you want to go. Rephrase the question to make it more specific. By your question, I think you're referring to...let me put that in perspective." Strategies for handling question traps Either/Or. When the answer is not black or white," say so. Absent Party. Don't get trapped into being a spokesperson for another individual, business or organization or into criticizing an absent person or organization.
Media Interview Skills for Environmental Education Programs 3 False Statement. Correct incorrect information immediately. Don't repeat the misinformation; this only reinforces it. Hypothetical. You do not have to answer a question that is hypothetical or conditional. It presents a scenario that never occurred. Section 3: Let's talk For any recorded interview (radio or television), the impact of your spoken message depends on how you say it. The sound of your voice determines how well you hold the audience's attention. The ability to speak well can be cultivated through practice. Common voice problems involve pitch, rate, and articulation. The habit of inflecting up at the ends of sentences and phrases is a pitch problem. Making everything you say sound like a question undermines your authority. You will sound more assertive if you lower your pitch and inflect downward. Do you talk too fast or too slow? The speed that you talk is your speaking rate. While sprinting through your message may leave listeners behind, talking too slowly may bore them. To find out if you need to slow down or speed up, try this: Record yourself talking with someone, preferably in a "mock news interview" situation. Play it back and listen to how fast or slow you speak. Practice establishing a rate that is easy for people to understand. Once you've established a good pitch and rate, practice varying them, along with your volume, to add emphasis and expression to your message. Without variety, your voice becomes boring. You will make a better impression on your audience if you articulate. This doesn't mean getting rid of your Southern accent if you have one just your Southern slur. With practice, you'll be able to say "The Extension Way: People Helping People" instead of "The Stenstion Way: People Heppin' People." The key to improvement is tuning your ear to these voice attributes. When you recognize them, you'll be able to work at making the best of your own natural abilities. Section 4: Appearance is everything Television viewers will judge your trustworthiness by your message's substance and your style. However, your appearance also must match viewer expectations. Following are a few do's and don'ts for dressing for success in a TV interview. Clothing (in a studio setting) Stick to a conservative, "professional appearance" style. Wear a tailored sports coat. (men) Skirt length should be appropriate no mini-skirts. (women) Wear tan or black hose. (women) Avoid tight stripes or plaids. On camera, they sometimes produce a moving zebra-stripe effect. Clothing (in an "on-location" setting) Dress in natural clothes. You are not expected to wear a suit if you're being interviewed in a peanut field or a citrus grove. Avoid hats. If you must wear one, push back the brim so people can see your eyes. Jewelry Wear only a few pieces. Avoid "clunky" or dangling jewelry. Big gold or high-gloss pieces can reflect studio lights. Short necklaces are best. Long necklaces rub against clip-on microphones. Make-up Aim for the "natural" look. A woman's every day make-up should be fine. Use a matte finish to reduce shine (this includes lipstick).
Media Interview Skills for Environmental Education Programs 4 Be sure your nails are manicured. Men: Most likely, you will not have to wear make-up, but be open to the suggestion. The lighting at some television stations may cause you to look washed out; therefore, you may need make-up to highlight your facial features. Enthusiasm Be animated. Use gestures, facial expressions, and body language to add vitality to your words. However, be careful not to overdo it. Smile. A good first impression can help establish your credibility. Be conversational. Say it in 30 seconds or less. Deliver your message with confidence. After all, you know more about the story topic than the interviewer. Body Language Look at the interviewer, not the camera. Glances up or to the side make you appear shifty-eyed and untrustworthy. Sit still in your chair. Rocking or swiveling can take you out of a cameraperson's shot. Don't look at notes during an interview, although you can refer to them if you get stuck." Stay seated when the interview is over. You might still be on camera and trip over a wire or do something else awkward. Other warnings Don't chew gum or play with your pocket change or keys while on television. Never wear black or white for television interviews. Aim for midtone colors. Darkor bright-colored clothes can make your face look extremely washed out or dark under television studio lighting. Your blouse/shirt should have a place to clip a microphone. Don't wear light-sensitive glasses. Studio lighting will make your glasses darker; viewers won't be able to see your eyes. Section 5: Nerves of steel You are now ready for radio and television interviews. You are prepared, you look great, and you are ready to go. You arrive at the station on time, and then "IT" happens. You realize YOU will be the one in front of the microphone or camera. Your palms sweat. Your stomach churns. What are you going to do? Stage fright is not a fatal disease. Just remember that we never look as nervous as we feel. With a few tips, you can overcome your fears and give a successful interview. Be organized and concise. Read over your material in advance to keep from sounding strained and awkward. Concentrate on the question you're being asked. Pause before answering a question just long enough to formulate an outline of the answer. Before the interview starts, take a deep breath, get a drink of water, laugh or yawn. Why yawn? Because you can't yawn and be tense at the same time. Even a nervous laugh to yourself will help relieve tension. Remind yourself that you were asked to be interviewed because you're knowledgeable on that subject; you're the expert. Prior to the interview, review taped performances of yourself to identify presentation strengths and weaknesses. Be sure the TV station has your proper name and title. Seeing either item appear incorrectly on the TV screen can throw you off guard. Try to convince yourself you're having a normal everyday conversation with someone.
Media Interview Skills for Environmental Education Programs 5 Prepare your voice before the interview. Many people are self-conscious about the way they sound. One way to lessen this fear is by relaxing your throat with a glass of lemon and hot water before leaving your house. Also, certain foods and beverages coat your throat, causing difficulty in swallowing and speaking. Before the interview, stay away from such things as cola drinks, chocolates, and milk and milk products. It takes several hours to "uncoat" your throat from these products. In addition to the suggestions above, you may wish to use this checklist to make sure you have everything covered before the interview: Are you familiar with the show or publication? How will this interview be used? Are you the only source, or one of many? Will this interview be live or taped? Will there be call-in questions? If this is a television interview, are you ready to make your appearance? What will you wear? What about use of makeup, visual aids? Have you developed a conversational style that will work under fire? Have you rehearsed all possible questions and answers with someone else? Can you explain your communication points in a concise manner? Have you prepared notes for your own reference? Do you have a few bridges or transitional statements? Are you prepared to answer questions without resorting to "no comment"? How many ways can you restate your key messages? Are you aware of your body language and facial expressions? Are you ready to present your message in an honest, effective way without industry jargon? After you have been interviewed, you should evaluate how well you did before you do another interview. Here are some questions you may wish to ask yourself to evaluate your interview skills. Did you: Communicate your objective? Create soundbites (short quotations)? Keep control of the interview? Remain calm? Listen carefully to questions? Bridge from hostile or irrelevant questions? Use short, succinct sentences? Maintain credibility? Keep good eye contact with the interviewer? Control body gestures use hand motions appropriately, stop that shaking leg? Project a strong, positive image of a person people would trust? Final helps By following these final "Be Attitudes," you should be successful in any interview setting: Be prepared. Prepare in advance two or three key ideas you wish to get across. Anticipate key issues that will come up during the interview and be prepared to use those issues to launch your objectives. Think of questions you would ask. Be positive. Turn negative questions or statements into positive responses. End every answer on a positive, upbeat note. Be honest. Always tell the truth. If you don't and try to bluff, it will show. Your credibility is crucial.
Media Interview Skills for Environmental Education Programs 6 Be brief. Crystallize your ideas into a few short phrases that summarize what you're trying to communicate. Be yourself. Keep your voice at an even pace. Act naturally. Be energetic. Be animated. Use gestures, facial expressions and body language to add vitality to your words. (Just don't overdo it.) Be focused. Direct your full attention on the interviewer. Look squarely at the person asking the questions. Dont be concerned with distractions. Be comfortable, confident and take charge. Relax. You know more about the story topic than the interviewer. If not, you wouldn't be interviewed. Note All materials and fact sheets related to this Extension Enhancement Award program are provided on this Web site: http://envmedia.ifas.ufl.edu