by Maria Lahiffe & Heather Badenoch
You do important work, for an important cause. A media interview is one way to let your target audience know about your work so they can take action—from becoming a volunteer, to donating, to becoming a client. “One of the most effective and far-reaching ways to get that message across is through print and broadcast media”,  i.e. newspapers, radio, television, and online media outlets.
Journalists are continually looking for stories to tell and must meet daily deadlines. They welcome hearing from you with story suggestions. A journalist can help you spread the word about your important work.
The thing is, being an expert in your field is one thing – talking to the public, or to a journalist, is another skill. Here are some tips to help you ace an interview.
When a journalist calls, asking key questions up front paves the way to a successful interview for both you and the journalist. Ensure you understand their deadline (e.g. today by 3 pm or a few days from now?) and the reason for the interview. Ask the journalist questions like ‘what’s prompting this story?’ and ‘who else are you interviewing?’. How long will the interview be, and will it be live or recorded? Ask yourself if you’re the expert on this topic, or if it would be better to suggest someone else. Determine if this interview will benefit your organization and if this interview is indeed a priority with everything else on your plate. If you decide to go ahead with the interview, discuss with the journalist what you can and cannot speak to, based on your expertise, organization’s mission and programs, client confidentiality, etc.
Key messages are the main three or four points you want your audience to remember about your cause. They are bit-sized nuggets that summarize what you do, why you do it, how you are different, and the action you want people to take. Key messages are the brief points you make pro-actively at every opportunity—much like your elevator speech. Click here for a blog post about crafting good key messages.
You need to know your key messages off by heart, inside out, and backwards. You need to be able to state your key messages in a few different ways, using natural language. Say them out loud.
How do you do this? Practice, practice, and then practice some more. During an interview, you won’t have your key messages in front of you, because reading from a page doesn’t flow like a natural conversation. With practice, you’ll get better and better at weaving key messages into an interview.
Anticipate the questions you’ll be asked during the interview and prepare answers. Do write them down. Prepare to be asked who, what, when, where, why and how. The journalist may even tell you in advance the questions they will ask. You can also look up past media coverage of similar topics to see what was asked. Key messages remain the information you proactively share. Questions and answers are use reactively, when asked.
Enthusiasm is infectious. You care deeply about your cause, so don’t be afraid to let that show. One way that can be especially effective is to tell a client story that illustrates your organization’s impact. Keep it short and practice beforehand, so that you can tell it smoothly.
Most local TV interviews and some radio interviews are pre-recorded. That means, if you mess up an answer, you can ask to redo your answer.
This post has been co-written by VO and Heather Badenoch. Heather believes in the value of not-for-profits to affect change for people, animals and our environment. As the Chief Strategist at Village PR she provides communications planning and implementation, public relations, social media engagement, and training across Canada.
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