Rebecca B. Andersen
OSA’s Director of Public Relations shares some best practices for participating in an interview regarding your research.
Congratulations! Your paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal or accepted for an international conference, and now journalists near and far are interested in your research. Whether it is a phone interview with an optics industry journalist or a television interview on your local network news affiliate, both require pre-interview preparation for success. Even for an experienced media-trained spokesperson, this can be a nerve-racking experience. Here are some best practices to help get you through it successfully.
Rules on media interviews vary by organization. If you have a public relations department, let them know about the media request in advance. PR staff may want to vet reasons for the interview first and participate in facilitating the interview. Also, inform anyone else at work who may need to know about the request—executive team, legal team, etc.
Before agreeing to an interview, ask the journalist a few questions: How will the interview be conducted—by phone, Skype or will it be produced for television or radio? If this is for radio or TV, when and for how long will you need to be on location at the station? If it is a phone interview, how long is it scheduled for, and how can you best prepare based on the angle of the story?
Knowing these details can help you avoid situations in which you are caught off guard by the questions. They can also help determine if the reporter or media outlet has a particular agenda or bias. Remember to ask the journalist about their deadline at the outset to determine if it is even a feasible request.
Before the interview
Even if you have significant expertise on the interview topic, you can still prepare to help the conversation go smoothly:
- Block time on your calendar to prepare. Make sure to carve out enough time for preparation well before the interview. On the day of, you want to feel unrushed and familiar with the content. Arrive early to any on-site interview or get on a conference line early to ensure that you are comfortable with the location or the strength of the phone connection.
- Familiarize yourself with the reporter and media outlet. Watch or read a few past interviews from the reporter covering your research area. You should be able to find their past stories on their media outlet’s website or via their social media channels.
- Determine your key messages. Choose no more than three main points to emphasize and practice talking about them concisely, yet broadly, for larger general-public understanding. Keep the conversation informative but accessible. Continue to direct the conversation back to the three main points you want the journalist to write about in their article.
- Think through any potentially difficult subjects. Is there something in particular that you worry the reporter will ask? Consider how you would respond to any potentially tricky questions in advance. It’s important not to be defensive during the interview. If you don’t feel comfortable or qualified to give an answer, then it’s better to pass on the question, calmly and positively: “I understand the interest in this specific research, but I’m not the best person to comment on it. Let me put you in touch with a colleague who will know more about this research area.”
- Get advice. Talk to trusted colleagues and your boss or mentor about the interview in advance. What issues do they think might be covered? How would they answer the difficult questions and what type of follow-ups do they normally do?
During the interview
- Answer the question. Do your best to respond directly to the question from the journalist, while bridging to your key messages.
- Key messages are king. Connect back to your main points with phrases such as: “another important thing to understand,” “related to that” or “on that topic…”
- Remember: You’re always “on.” Keep in mind, even if a camera or recording device isn’t rolling and you are engaging in pre- or post-interview chitchat with the journalist, that conversation has the potential to be included in an article.
- Be concise, but avoid industry slang. Don’t assume the general public will understand our industry terms or acronyms unless it is an industry-specific publication. Television and radio require comparatively brief responses, and print stories will want short quotes, so work to keep your points concise based on the news medium.
- Be friendly. Whether the interview is in person or over the phone, a smile on your face shines through. Try your best not to be combative or defensive, even if the journalist asks you questions that you may not have expected. Remember, their job is to help the general public understand the intrinsic value or applications of your research. Help them to build that story, and keep the conversation at a higher level.
After the interview
- Follow up. If the interview isn’t live or if it’s for a print piece, then ask when it’s scheduled to appear and if you can review it beforehand—although reviewing won’t always be an option. Thank the reporter and offer to be a resource in the future. Offer to connect with them on your social media channels to keep in touch.
- Be available for post-interview requests. The journalist may need additional information from you to clarify the story. Respond quickly, as they may be on a tight deadline for their publication. It is in your best interest to support them as they write the article for scientific integrity to your research.
- A picture (or video) is worth a thousand words. Do you want your research to go viral? Have ready-to-share, high-resolution images or video of your research available with captions and image credits.
- Publicize your involvement. Ask your employer to share the news on their social media networks, and add the article to your personal social media accounts, research website or blog. This is a great way to boost your professional profile on Google Scholar, LinkedIn or your group homepage.
- Share the news with OSA! OSA has a number of avenues through which we promote news from our members, and we want to hear from you. We can post your news story to our “Members in the News” section of our website, in OPN and on social media. Email us with your news at MediaRelations@osa.org.
Connect with Rebecca at Becky Andersen and @Becky_Andersen.