With all of the great research, expertise, programs, awards, service and outreach that Texas A&M AgriLife faculty and staff are known for, the media is going to want to know more. That being the case, we’ve assembled a quick reference to help you make the most of your interview and time on camera or in print.
When you receive a media inquiry
- Understand the question: What type of information is the reporter looking for? General overview/background, in-depth explanation, or statement on position? Are you the best person to talk about the subject? Do you have the information they need, or do you need to research and/or gather facts?
- Understand their deadline: Do they need information today or do they want to arrange an interview? Do not feel pressure to respond to their questions immediately. Arrange a specific time to get back to them or set up an interview.
- Get the details about the interview. How much time has been allotted? Will it be live or taped? If it’s a radio interview, will listeners be able to call in with questions? Will it be a panel discussion or a one-on-one interview? If it is a print media interview, will a photographer be coming as well?
- Do not respond off the cuff: Take time to prepare your responses and key messages.
Before the Interview
Discuss interview requests and other media opportunities with the communications office in your college or agency. They may be able to give you background information about the reporter/news organization and help you prepare for the interview.
Anticipate questions and prepare answers ahead of time. It’s important to stay on message during the entire interview.
Develop three to five key messages that you want to include in your overall responses. The communications staff in your college or agency can help you develop these.
- Radio stories are very short — usually 30 to 60 seconds — so use short sentences and get to the point. Radio reporters often work under the tightest deadline, because they can be working on a story minutes before it goes on the air.
- Television stories are usually about 90 seconds and focus on visuals. Anticipate questions about the visual aspects of your topic.
- Print reporters often seek more detail because they do not have the benefit of using visuals and sound to help tell their story. Use vivid description to make your topic compelling and entertaining.
If possible, rehearse and/or record a simulated interview.
Choose your clothing carefully for television interviews. It’s usually better to dress conservatively and on the formal side. A polo shirt with your college/agency logo is preferred. For a TV interview, you’ll probably wear a wireless microphone and transmitter, so it’s best to wear something with a pocket or belt to hold the transmitter.
If it’s a television studio interview or at a location other than your office or lab, plan to get to your location at least 15 minutes early and, ideally, spend time practicing your key messages.
Although it’s easier said than done, try to relax and focus. Breathing exercises and/or pushing your hands together at the fingertips can help calm nerves. Remember, you’re the expert on the subject under discussion. Here’s your chance to shine!
During the Interview
Answer questions with your relevant and positive messages, and repeat them at every opportunity. Begin your responses with the most important points. Keep your answers as brief as possible.
Assume that everything is “on the record.” That’s standard procedure even if it’s an electronic media interview and the camera or recorder is not on or if the reporter has put away their notebook. Don’t say anything that you would not want to see on the Internet or the front page of the newspaper.
If you are being interviewed in your official professional capacity, remember that you are representing your college/agency.
Remember to use Texas A&M and/or your college/department/agency in as many answers as possible. For example, “At Texas A&M, we are firmly committed to preparing our students with the necessary skills to excel in the global economy.”
Don’t be drawn into speculation, hypothetical situations or negative questions. Limit your comments to what you know and keep repeating the positive aspects of the situation.
Don’t be glib or repeat negative language. Avoid “no comment,” which implies that you have something to hide.
Don’t use jargon, uncommon acronyms or technical language. Avoid “insider’s” terms or concepts that the general public does not know. Try to simplify your explanations and use analogies to help explain difficult concepts.
Don’t rush to respond. Listen carefully to the reporter’s questions. Pause a second or two after each question to organize your thoughts.
Be aware of filler words such as “um,” “well” and “you know” and avoid them as much as possible.
Keep your answers short. The average broadcast sound bite is 7-10 seconds. When you have covered your message point, stop talking! Don’t feel nervous if no one is talking. Wait for the reporter to ask you the next question.
Speak in the first person, active voice: “I did this,” rather than “This was done.” Be polite, honest and friendly, but keep your tone professional.
Remember your key points and move back to them at every opportunity. If a reporter asks a question you cannot or will not answer, say something like, “I can’t address that issue, but I can tell you …” or “That is interesting, but the issue here is …” If you don’t understand the question or if the question is vague, ask for clarification.
Maintain strong eye contact. This will hold a reporter’s attention and make you look confident. Never look at the camera or lower your head to speak into the microphone.
Be careful about nodding your head, particularly in TV interviews. That implies that you agree with what a reporter is saying. Also, try not to make dramatic gestures or wave your arms while you speak. The camera angle is probably not wide enough to capture exaggerated movements.
Suggest a call to action. For example, direct people to a website for more information.
Plug your website early and often.
Be enthusiastic and keep in mind that you know more about the subject than the reporter does. Take advantage of this opportunity to tell your story!
After the Interview
Follow up promptly with any additional information you promised to provide.
Feel free to ask the reporter when the story will appear.
Thank the reporter for featuring your program/topic.