Radio and TV interviews

The interview

The interview is a conversation between two people with different aims. You’re the specialist. You have the detailed information. You will know more about the subject than the reporter. And you are there because you have something you want to say.

The interviewer’s job is to enable you to present the information, explain it more fully and, in some instances, justify your position.

  • The interviewer is looking for a topic that will interest his audience.
  • The interviewee is the expert who has the information and may be trying to make a particular point.
  • But remember there’s a third person involved, the listener. Each programme has its target audience. They will be listening to your conversation, so find out as much as you can about them and bear their needs in mind when you speak. It’s their attention you want.

Agreeing to be interviewed

When you are approached for a radio or television interview, ask the reporter what areas they want to cover and let him know if there is a particular point that you wish to bring out.

Remember, you have the information they want. You’re the specialist, if you like. Collect in your mind the main points you wish to put over.

Local radio stations may want to do a “down-the-line” interview over the phone. Find out exactly what the reporter wants to know before you agree to go live or be recorded.

Almost certainly you will need time to think through your answer. It is quite acceptable to say that you will ring him back (and if you say this, please do it!) within 20 minutes. This gives you enough time to do your research; speak to anyone else who may be able to help you; and to think through your answer.

There are three basic types of interview, but the principles of each remain the same:

  • The news interview – this is where the reporter just wants the facts. Perhaps you’ve just witnessed a car accident or an armed robbery. The questions you will be asked are factual ones: Who, Where, When and What happened?
  • The information interview – this is an amalgam of facts and opinions. Perhaps you have been invited to give your views on a social or ethical issue. More time is spent on answering questions such as: How and Why?
  • The in-depth interview – this is usually done completely on the interviewee’s wavelength. These interviews deal with very personal matters, for instance, celebrity interviews or people with a story to tell.

The interview itself

Switch off your mobile phone. If the reporter is visiting you, avoid background noise and find somewhere quiet.

The interview is not a platform for the free expression of your views, nor is it a confrontation in which the interviewer is determined to win.

Interviewers are not there to destroy you, but they may play devil’s advocate to achieve a more lively interview. Harder questions usually produce sharper answers delivered with greater conviction. So don’t be intimidated.

The interviewer should let you know the areas he wishes to cover, but do not expect him to give you the exact questions. His next question may well be influenced by your previous answer.

He should let you know the duration of the interview and the programme, and time of day when it is likely to be transmitted. If you don’t know the programme, ask the interviewer what sort of person listens to it. Having a target audience in mind will influence the way in which you put across your ideas

Remember both you and the interviewer have control over what is said. Try to answer all his questions, but use the opportunity to develop the points that you want to make. You should not feel too restricted by the actual questions asked.

If you are being interviewed in studio, or on location in front of a television camera, always maintain good eye contact with your interviewer. If you are speaking from a remote TV studio, look straight to camera.

  • Speak briefly, succinctly and with enthusiasm. Keep your answers between twenty and forty seconds
  • Speak clearly, but in normal conversational language. Don’t read from a script.
  • Illustrate your answer with examples and, if there’s time, a short anecdote perhaps.
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms. It only wastes precious time if the interviewer has to ask for an explanation.
  • Try to have one point that you particularly wish to emphasise and aim to make it in your first answer.
    Answer the question, but focus on the points you want to make and don’t allow yourself to taken off-track .
  • Learn how to “bridge”so you can move from one subject to the message you wish to communicate. ­You can use such bridging phrases as: ­”Before we leave that topic, let me just add…” “It’s crucial to remember this…” “Let me put that in perspective.”
  • Acknowledging the existence of an opposite view will make you appear more human and help your credibility.
  • Dress appropriately. If your message is thoughtful and serious, put on a dark suit. If you want to be seen as hard working, roll up your sleeves. If you want to be light-hearted, leave the suit at home and wear a golf shirt. The way you look and the impression you give have more impact than anything you say.
  • Professionalism, personal experience, authority and a sense of humour come over well. So does insincerity!
  • And finally, remember you are not just aiming at a “one-off” interview. Always keep in the back of your mind that you may want to be invited back at another time.