When you are preparing for an interview, it may help to remind yourself of the different priorities of researchers and journalists:

  • Researchers work with accuracy, detail, prudence, incremental developments, robust methodologies and peer review.
  • Journalists work with breaking news, quick grabs, key points, catchy or controversial comments, constant time pressure and tight deadlines.

Preparing for the interview

  1. Objective – Be clear about why you want to use the media or why you have agreed to do the interview.
  2. Audience – Who do you want to reach with your messages? Always know who the media audience is before the interview starts.
  3. Message – What do you want to get across to the audience? Consider your objective, what the audience might want to know (which generally shapes an interviewer’s questions) and what the audience (or interviewer) might get wrong unless you stress the correct information. Get your main points across first.
  4. In writing – Always give journalists something in writing before the interview. Offer to email it to them.
  5. Prepare – What figures, statistics and background information might be useful in your interview? Think of simple, everyday explanations, examples or analogies. Focus on the main points of your message.
  6. Rehearse – Practise with someone who can play the role of the journalist. Try your family or friends; colleagues know too much.
  7. Interview – When you meet the journalist, walk them through the main 2 or 3 points of your story before they start the interview.

Controlling the agenda

When you give a media interview, you need to remain in control of it.

If you don’t, you may fail to get your message across or, worse, you may get the wrong message across.

  1. Try to make sure that the FIRST answer you give to a question encapsulates your most important point. For most interview situations, this will direct the sorts of questions you’ll be asked.
  2. Stick to your 2 or 3 key points (which may mean turning questions around). Back them up with examples or colourful analogies. Repeat your key points 2 or 3 times using different words.
  3. Answer questions using the PREP method:
  • Make the Point you want to make.
  • Back that point up with a Reason (give an explanation).
  • Give an Example to illustrate your point.
  • Restate your main Point again to make it really clear.
  1. Keep your answers short and interesting.
  2. Be enthusiastic and lively.
  3. In pre-recorded interviews, the audience rarely hears the question. So avoid yes/no answers and pronouns. Include relevant parts of the question so that your answer can stand alone. For example, if the question was ‘Why will this revolutionise medicine?’, you might begin your answer with ‘This will revolutionise medicine because …’.
  4. Regard questions as opportunities to say what YOU want, rather than something you need to accurately answer in detail.
  5. At the end of the interview, confirm with the journalist that they understand your key points.

Answering tricky questions

Most journalists are not out to trick you. They just haven’t the time to do a lot of research and so they don’t know the right questions to ask you.

If you keep answering questions (which may be scattergun), you’ll both go merrily down the garden path and you may not get your message across.

Be prepared to turn the interview around and point it in the right direction. This does not mean you completely ignore questions. Rather, see each one as an opportunity to convey your key points.

Phrases that might help:

  • The point of the whole issue is simply this …
  • The really exciting thing about our work is …
  • Let me answer your question by simply pointing out that in the last… months we have…
  • I think your question is best directed to… but what I can say is…
  • To appreciate our position on that issue it is important that you first realise…
  • Let’s look at that issue from another viewpoint…
  • Well, that’s an interesting point but the key thing I want to say is…

Never say ‘No comment’. It makes you look guilty. Always give a reason why you can’t answer a question. Be honest.

Phrases that might help:

  • It’s too early to answer that question…
  • I can’t talk about […] because I’m not the person working on it…
  • I can’t talk about […] because it’s commercial in confidence…
  • I can’t talk about […] because the final results are not in yet…

Then add, ‘but what I can say is…’ and return to your main message.