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Media interview tips

Want other people to know about your campaign, cause, or organisation? Then you need to exploit the media. Whether youre bracing yourself for a face-off with Jeremy Paxman or trying to get some coverage in your local newspaper, follow these tips for successful interaction with the press.

Before the interview

If it's for a newspaper, the journalist may want to meet you, so be flexible in where you meet and exchange mobile numbers in case one of you gets lost. Most print journalists record interviews and they should check you're happy with this before you begin.

If your interview is for television or radio, ask if it's a live event or pre-recorded. Research the other guests appearing on the show, so you know who you'll be faced with.

Here are some more tips:

  • Get an idea of the tone of the interview by familiarising yourself with the programme or publication, and your interviewer. Whether the interviewer is sympathetic to your cause or not, come ready with the attitude and information to state your case. If you're not confident in yourself, no one else will be.
  • Try rehearsing your points out loud - it may feel strange at first but it is good practice, and they'll sound completely different to what's written on your crib-sheet/hand.
  • Have a friend grill you beforehand with a rapid-fire round of difficult questions. Encourage them to get in to character and be as mean as they like. That way you'll be prepared for anything.
  • Prepare yourself for what the journalist might ask, including any negative questions. The aim is to avoid nasty surprises. If it's a live broadcast, try and find out the questions you're going to be asked.

What to wear

If you're going on TV, perhaps refrain from opting for that jumper your gran knitted you for Christmas. Expect people to make assumptions about you - you're young, you care, so you must be a lay-about hippy, right? Dressing smartly is one way to wrong-foot annoying stereotypes. Don't wear stripes on TV as the camera can make them look weird and distracting. Even for face-to-face interviews with a print journalist, err on the side of smart in order to look professional.

What to say

  • Write down three key messages you'd like to get across and return to them regularly. This is the foundation of all successful campaign interviews.
  • Think of anecdotes to illustrate your points - real people's experiences will hold the audience's interest.
  • If your interview is for TV or radio, the name of the game is working in facts about your topic as well as the cause's web address. Exploit the media, not the other way around.

During the interview

  • Take deep breaths and enjoy yourself - you'll come across better. If you feel nervous, try smiling (even on the radio), it will make your speaking voice more engaging and expressive.
  • Journalists are human too - be friendly and disarm them with your charm.
  • Tricky as it is not to turn red and talk at 100 miles per hour, try not to rush your replies. Again, taking deep breaths will help as it relaxes you.
  • As a rule, don't tell a journalist anything you don't want the world to know. Even if they're your best friend.
  • A trick journalists sometimes use is to paraphrase what you're saying, then ask you to agree with their statement ("So, are you saying you'd NEVER accept donations from ANY large organisation ... or just McNasty Fast Food inc.?") Beware the 'reverse question'. Resist the temptation to directly answer with a "yes" or "no" and instead make a statement you feel comfortable with.
  • Avoid jargon. Imagine you're describing your cause to someone who has never heard of it.
  • Everyone makes mistakes - just ask James Naughtie from the Today Programme. If the interview isn't live, say firmly you want to start again. If it is, laugh it off and move on.
  • Don't comment on anything not relevant to your point - just say "I'm afraid it's not for me to say," and switch back to what you're there to publicise.

After the interview

Ask the journalist when the piece is likely to be produced and if you can have a copy or a CD/DVD of the recording. Take their contact details and remind them nearer the time. They'll probably forget to get back to you, so bug them.

Find out if the broadcast show or publication has a website and ask if the story will go online (if so, beg for a link to your organisation). Remember to tell the world via Twitter/Facebook/your website. Your mission is to milk this coverage for all it's worth.

Make sure you leave on good, friendly terms and tell the journalist you'd be happy to help again in the future. If you are in their good books and they know you are available, you are far more likely to get a call about another story, usually at five minutes notice.

Updated: 14/02/2011

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