Tips for Handling Inquiries, Interviews
Regardless of whether you think talking to the media falls under a PI’s job description, at some point in your career a reporter may call or your institution may ask you to speak to the media. Whether the reporter seeks background on an in-depth examination of a science or societal trend, a sound bite for breaking news coverage, or is focusing an unwanted spotlight, it is in your best interest to be prepared.
Here are 10 ways to do that:
- Know who is calling and why. Get the reporter’s name and media outlet. Find out why the reporter asked you for an interview, and try to get a sense of the his or her focus or angle. If you feel you are not the best person to address the subject, say so.
- Buy time to prepare. Confirm the reporter’s deadline. Set a time to speak within that time frame to allow you to the gather your thoughts. Resist the temptation to wing it.
- Know the audience. With the reporter’s outlet, angle, and audience in mind, consider both your message and the best way to convey it to that particular audience.
- Know your message and stay on it. Don’t leave yourself open to misinterpretation. Create a headline in advance and make it the lead point. Think of different ways to communicate that point, and be sure reinforce it in every response.
- Avoid jargon and technical language. You are not talking to your peers. Overuse of specialized terms will obscure your message and lose the audience. If a term is absolutely essential, use it and then define it in layman’s terms.
- Respect the reporter. Never talk down to or become argumentative. If a reporter is misinformed or cites incorrect facts, remember you are the expert and politely correct him or her. And, be sure to get the reporter’s name right in on-air interviews.
- Avoid “no comment.” This classic retort makes you look like you’re trying to hide something. If you cannot answer, explain why.
- Do not speculate. Speculative answers may come back to haunt you. If you can’t answer to a question, say so and promise to get back to the reporter with information. Hypothetical questions are notorious minefields. Do not be enticed to respond to what-if scenarios.
- If it shouldn’t be in the news, don’t say it. “Off the record” is a myth. Always be aware when microphones, cameras, or tape reorders are present.
- Appearance matters on camera. Dress simply and conservatively. Sit up straight. Be mindful of your body language. Don’t make Richard Nixon’s mistake (before his televised interview with John F. Kennedy): always say yes to make-up!