I was listening to the radio the other day, to a big news show, when a colleague I know came on to talk about a thing that’s in the news. Apparently politics still makes the news.
I think this colleague is a good person, doing good work and is very personable. Unfortunately, I was a bit underwhelmed by their interview. Mainly because I wasn’t sure what they were trying to say.
With that in mind, and very much in a constructive spirit for all of us (since I can be as bad as anyone on this), I thought it might be helpful to run through some key points of ‘doing media’.
The main take home is that it’s like teaching, inasmuch as you need to focus on your learning objectives.
When you teach, you’re trying to get your students to learn something. When you do media, you’re trying to get the interviewer and the audience to learn something.
So the big question for you with any media interview should be: “what am I trying to say here?”
The answer to that should be a short sentence of the kind spoken by non-academics. In the case of this post, it’s “make sure you say what you are trying to say”.
Three ways to achieve this.
First, make sure you literally say the thing that is your main point. At some point in the interview, use the actual wording of your point. You can paraphrase it elsewhere as you talk, but just say it as bluntly as you can.
That seems really basic, but it’s oddly tricky when you’re stressed, when someone’s lobbing questions at you, when you might be just focusing on getting any response out of your mouth. If it helps, write your point down and fix on it for a moment just before you kick off.
I’d suggest you get your point out as soon as politely practical, mainly because you always have less time than you think you do and you might get cut off mid-flow (like my colleague on the radio): get in early, then it’s done.
Second, remember your ABC: acknowledge the question, bridge to your point, continue.
Assuming we’re talking about you inputting to some news story of public interest, remember that journalists aren’t necessarily all that deeply invested in the details as you might be. That’s kind of why you’re being interviewed. But it means the questions you get asked might not be the ‘right’ questions to ask, stopping you from saying what you want to say.
So handle that by landing the question with a metaphorical nod to show you’ve understood it, then redirect it towards the thing you think needs to be understood here (which might well be your main point). You might have noticed this feels a bit like how politicians talk, because they’ve had their training, but it’s still a good way of ensuring you’ve got an opportunity to make your point, even if not directly asked about it.
Finally, remember that journalists are (almost always) on your side. They want you to say interesting and useful things, so trust they are trying to help you get to do that.
If you have a chat pre-interview (as often happens for radio and TV), make sure you get your main point across once more and most times that will lead to them asking questions that allow you to directly make your main point on-air. And if not, there’s almost always opportunity by pivoting as just mentioned.
Of course, that still needs you to say what you want to say.