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Interview Tips

PRINT INTERVIEW TIPS

A print interview for a newspaper or magazine story is generally longer in length than a television or radio interview. This increased time frame enables you to more fully develop the messages you wish to communicate.However, the print interview necessitates more detailed examples and requires an in-depth knowledge of your subject matter.

The newspaper or magazine interview may take place in person or via telephone. The length of the interview and deadline for the story will vary depending upon the style of the publication and the reporter. While an interview for a news story in a daily newspaper may take 10 minutes, an interview for a feature story or profile in a monthly magazine may take two hours. And, while a daily newspaper reporter must often file a story within hours for it to appear in the next day’s edition, a weekly or monthly magazine writer has the flexibility of waiting days to complete a story.

Keep the following tips in mind when taking part in print interviews:

  • As with all news media, don’t be surprised if the reporter has to cancel the interview at the last minute, especially if it is not related to “breaking news.” Reporters are at the mercy of each day’s news developments, and another event may take priority. Normally, you can reschedule the interview for a later time or date.
  • It is not unusual for a reporter to tape-record an interview. This can help the reporter pay better attention to you rather than furiously taking notes. But if you are not being taped, remember to speak slowly.
  • If you inadvertently offer misleading or incorrect information, correct yourself as soon as you recognize the error.
  • If you tell the reporter you will get back to him/her with additional information, ask the reporter’s deadline and follow up in a timely manner.
  • Feel free to ask whether the reporter plans to write a story using the interview, and if so, when it is likely to run. (The reporter will rarely be able to tell you the exact running date, since editorial decisions are made on a day-to-day basis.)
  • Be sure the reporter knows where he can reach you in case he needs additional information while writing the story.
  • Don’t ask the reporter to see the story before it runs. You do not have the right to review it or change your quotes.
  • Stay on message, stay on message, stay on message.

TELEVISION TIPS

On television, presentation is just as important, if not more so, than what you say.The format and restrictions of television interviews also demand a solid command of “headlining,” “blocking and bridging” and the other communications techniques. Here are some specific tips to help you with television interviews:

  • Keep in mind that your responses to interview questions will be cut apart in the editing suite later, and only portions of your answers will be selected for use. In a typical ten-minute taped interview, you may discover less than a minute (or three short 20 second “sound bites”) is used in the final story. Therefore, it is critical to make certain your MESSAGES are those selected. You can help insure this by delivering those MESSAGES concisely, and with much energy. Television news thrives on strongly delivered interview segments.
  • Dress conservatively. For men, a dark suit and blue shirt is best. Avoid loud ties or ties with small patterns. For women, wear a dark-colored outfit in solid colors.; Avoid white clothing because it casts unflattering light on the face and causes problems for cameras. Don’t wear large, shiny or noisy jewelry.
  • If you have contact lenses, wear them instead of your glasses. If you wear glasses, non-reflective lenses are preferable. Don’t wear light-sensitive glasses.
  • If offered makeup, accept it. The host or reporter will have it on; you should, too. Men should consider shaving close to airtime.  Women should apply a matte finish powder or foundation to avoid a shiny face.
  • Arrive early at the station to orient yourself to the studio. If the interview takes place on location, arrive early to allow for lighting and sound checks.
  • Typically, a “pre-interview” precedes the actual on-camera interview. It may last 30 seconds or five minutes. This is a chance for you to “check out” the personality and demeanor of the interviewer, and to mention the topic(s) you would like to discuss during the interview. Often the pre-interview can help set the tone for the actual interview.
  • If seated, sit erect but not ramrod-straight, and angle yourself slightly forward or toward the interviewer. If standing, stand with arms at sides or one hand in pocket. Planting one foot slightly in front of the other will help you avoid swaying.
  • Gesture naturally, but not expansively. Keep gestures small and in front of you, and avoid sudden body movement.
  • Make your expression match your words. Smile if it is appropriate. Keep a mildly pleasant expression at all times; an expression that looks neutral off-camera looks unhappy or angry on-camera, so a pleasant face may feel unnaturally “smiley” at first. Practice in a mirror.
  • Lean forward slightly and modulate your voice to bring attention to key points.
  • Don’t nod your head to indicate that you understand or are ready to answer the question. Inadvertently, this may convey agreement with the questioner’s premise when you don’t mean to do so. Remain neutral and become animated only when you begin to speak.
  • Remember to make your statements punchy and concise. Put your most important message up-front.
  • Whether you are participating in an in-studio talk show format or a stand-up interview, talk to the interviewer or other guests, not the camera. Breaking eye contact by staring off into space or looking at the ground will make you appear “shifty.” Stay attentive even when others are speaking.
  • Don’t be distracted by the activity around you in the studio or by the camera crew. Keep focused on the interviewer.
  • Don’t overlap the reporter’s questions. Wait until the question is finished to begin your answer.
  • Hold your “interview attitude” until the interview is completely over and the camera is off.
  • Stay on message, stay on message, stay on message.

RADIO TIPS

All of the “non-visual” television tips on the previous pages apply to radio interviews as well. Here are a few additional guidelines:

  • In radio, your voice establishes your image. Don’t speak in monotone. Modulate your voice and try to make it as expressive as possible.
  • Speak at a normal level of loudness. Stress key points by raising your intensity level and pitch, not your voice.
  • Use words to create an image or paint a picture of your story for the audience. Examples, anecdotes and illustrations are even more important in radio than in other media. If you’re part of a news story, try to localize your examples.
  • Whenever possible, personalize your delivery. If you’re part of a talk program, ask what the host/hostess prefers to be called and try to put the interview on a first-name basis.
  • Feel free to have notes in front of you to remind you of message points, key facts and figures, etc.
  • If responding to listener call-ins, don’t let a hostile caller anger or fluster you. The most effective way to overcome hostile questions is to make your points firmly and politely and back up assertions with facts. Take the “high road” by responding to the issue behind the question, not the specific charge.
  • Stay on message, stay on message, stay on message.

TELEPHONE TIPS

Telephone interviews can be particularly challenging because they most often occur in the middle of a hectic workday and office environment, making it difficult to focus on the interview. This can be very hazardous. The following tips will help you handle them more effectively:

  • Buy preparation time if possible. Tell him/her you would be glad to talk, but are tied up at the moment. Find out the reporter’ deadline, and set an acceptable time to get back to him/her. Stick to it. (Even a delay of 10 minutes is sufficient to help you prepare.)
  • Establish an “interview atmosphere” by isolating yourself with the telephone as much as possible. Close the door and turn over extraneous papers on your desk.
  • Review your message points and other relevant notes. Keep them in front of you during the interview, along with scratch paper to take additional notes.
  • Since you can’t see the face of the person at the other end of the phone, occasionally ask the reporter for feedback on your comments to ensure his/her understanding.
  • Stay on message, stay on message, stay on message.

INTERVIEW WORKSHEET

Taking the time to fill out this interview worksheet will help you be prepared for your interview and can also be a good way to help combat nervousness. If possible, you may choose to keep it with you during your interview (particularly telephone or radio interviews).

  1. INTERVIEW GOALS:
  2. INTERVIEW WITH:
  3. AUDIENCE:
  4. FIRST MESSAGE POINT AND SUPPORTING FACTS:
  5. SECOND MESSAGE POINT AND SUPPORTING FACTS:
  6. THIRD MESSAGE POINT AND SUPPORTING FACTSS:
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