This is the third installment of an original series from Shawn Patrick Floss. He’s educated us on pitching stories to your local television station and newsroom jargon. In this entry, Shawn covers interview tips the art of an interview.
Shawn Patrick Floss, a suburban Chicago native, has 15 years of communications experience. He has worked at FOX6 in Milwaukee, WI, KUSA-TV in Denver, CO, Shreveport, LA and Bowling Green, KY. Currently, he is the Media Communications Manager for the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance where he increased brand awareness by securing story placement with several media outlets, including a six minute live morning talk show segment. Shawn is a graduate of the University of Missouri.
Rapping With a Reporter
by Shawn Patrick Floss
July 9, 2014
Ask any reporter “who’s the toughest person you’ve interviewed?” and I will bet a majority of them will say children. The hardest part is not necessarily getting them to sit still or pay attention to you, as surprising as that may sound to a parent. Most of them haven’t met a camera they don’t like, and would do anything to “get on TV” until it’s time to put a microphone to them and start asking questions. Suddenly, they clam up like a witness at a congressional hearing sitting beside a lawyer. The challenge is in the questioning. If a reporter is asking a yes or no question, then the 8-year-old will give a yes or no answer.
Tip 1: Be Ready To Talk
When the phone rings and a reporter asks for an interview, try to be accommodating. Remember, a deadline is typically only hours away so chances are a journalist needs to talk with you as soon as possible. If you don’t call back until the next day, you may have lost your opportunity for good coverage in the future. Set the tone early, and be known as a source who is willing and able, because you never know when you’ll need that reporter to help promote your event or to cut you slack during a crisis.
Tip 2: Good Interviewing Is a Conversation
You can tell the difference between a reporter who has done some homework before calling you, and the ones who wait for you to feed them the story. A good interview should not even feel like one, but more like two people chatting over coffee. In order to achieve that feeling, it takes two to tango. The reporter should be prepared with thoughtful open-ended questions that allow a government official or subject expert to explain an issue or city event. Reporters should already have a good idea on the background before it comes time to ask you to share your city’s position on a debate or council matter. If not, then fill them in before the interview starts, especially if you know the reporter is new or new to your issue.
Tip 3: Make The Interview Worth It
Before the questions start flying, the interview subject should have an idea of what’s coming. Be focused and ready to answer with succinct thoughts for a soundbite or quote. If you’re the designated spokesperson for a given topic, then you’ll probably have those talking points drilled in your head and ready to use. If you’re trying to prepare a colleague for an interview, keep hammering the talking points and prepare for as many possible questions you can think of. Just picture a 3-year-old who constantly asks, why, why, then follows up with, but why?
The better you can explain a subject in a brief and conversational manner for a reporter and ultimately the public to understand, the better the outcome of the story. The reporter’s questions will naturally focus on WHO or WHAT, but especially on HOW and WHY. Anytime a reporter stopped by the office at a nonprofit where I worked in Wisconsin, I made sure that reporter walked away with a fact sheet, talking points, and my contact info. Don’t assume a reporter will always have time or make the time to read your website or news release. It’s always good to take the initiative, and be ready with as much information as possible to ensure the story is reported accurately and with balance.
Tip 4: Don’t Get Lost in Translation
The biggest challenge for many city officials can be trying to explain a technical topic or an issue with several months of background, especially if you are asked to condense an answer into 10 or 15 seconds for an on camera interview. Always remember the audience, especially during these interviews. The average viewer is hardly paying attention to a newscast, so you want to make sure you are not losing people with too many details. Engineers love to share their knowledge on a project or piece of equipment, but it’s important to remember what matters most to the homeowner or business owner and how they’re affected by the work. People want timelines or costs (What’s in it for me?) If you can’t explain your city project to a 13-year-old, then you need to refine your message and keep it simple.
Tip 5: One More Thing
If somebody is showing up to your office with a TV camera, make a quick trip before a mirror. If your tie is crooked, there’s a stain on your collar, or your hair is a mess, then viewers are distracted and you’ve really lost them. It may sound vain, but it’s reality. Feel free to joke with the news photographer and ask how you look. They can become your ally and they’ll usually help you out.