You’re an activist. You have an interview with the media coming up. Now what?
Having done a good bit of press myself (and having also been on the media side of the equation), here are my best tips:
Script out what you are going to say.
Write your own talking points. Write out a few different chunks of your top three or five points, each no more than two sentences each. While you may or may not have a chance to say these things, you’ll sound more polished and poised once the questions start coming.
Go in with confidence.
Tell yourself you’re going to do well, and you probably will. If you sit and freak yourself out it’s not going to help once you’re in the interview.
If you’re nervous in the actual interview, keep going.
You may notice that you are flushing or have a rapid heart beat. If you do, keep going. Don’t stop. It feels 900 times more dramatic to you than it appears to someone else. Salute your own survival.
Don’t be afraid to pause and gather your thoughts.
You do not have to answer a question the split second it is given to you. Take a moment to gather your thoughts, and then go forward with your main point.
Smile. Sit up straight.
If you are doing an on-camera interview, smile. Smile so much. Non-verbal communication is what people follow. If you are smiling and sitting up straight, you appear approachable and confident, which makes it easier for people to listen to you.
Save the wild arm movements for exercise class.
Moving your body all around doesn’t look good on camera. It distracts from what you are trying to say, because people are looking to see where your body is headed instead of listening to the words coming out of your mouth. Fold your hands on the table in front of you.
Eliminate filler words and verbal tics to the extent you can.
Don’t beat yourself up during the course of the interview if something slips out, but try to eliminate your ums, uhs, I guesses, likes, and other pieces of verbal filler as much as possible. Ending statements so they sound like a question? Not helpful.
Wear professional clothing.
Patterns are not your friend. Bright colors look great on cameras. Jewelry looks good too, particularly a chunky necklace, but watch out for dangly earrings or sparkly things that could become distracting once magnified by a camera.
Part of looking good on camera is wearing makeup. At a minimum you’ll do much better with some powder for the shine. Wearing more makeup than usual is a good idea. Note that some talk shows will do your makeup before the show, in which case your best bet is to go in with a naked face (and make sure you have some eye makeup remover stocked at home for the aftermath, because holy crap).
Radio interview by telephone? Stand up.
This is the best media advice I’ve received (thanks, Mom!). If you’re doing a radio interview by telephone, stand up. You will naturally begin to speak as if you’re addressing a room, and your voice will project with more confidence and passion.
Answer the questions you want to be asked, and don’t be afraid to decline to answer a question.
You don’t have to answer every question you are asked. If you’re in the context of a live or broadcast interview and you don’t have the option to decline to answer the question directly, answer the questions you think you should have been asked. Pivot as best you can (“the real issue is,” “what everyone should focus on is,” etc.). Remember that you are there to get your points out.
Don’t be afraid to decline an interview.
You don’t have to give an interview to everyone who asks. Not all press is good press. I recently declined an interview request related to a profile for a peer in my field, even on background, which I thought was inappropriate. I’ve declined right-wing outlets, although I accept them far more often than others I know (my belief is that as activists we should be proud to say what we mean everywhere, or what do we think we are doing?). Not all press is good press. Not every outlet deserves the imprimatur of your expertise. This is subjective and requires your judgement. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to say no.
Become familiar with the format first.
If you’re going on a radio show or podcast, listen to previous episodes before you go on. Watch the TV shows coming to you. You’ll have more comfort with the format.
Remember why you are there and everything will be fine.
Activism is about issues. It is not about you. If you think about trying to advance your cause as best you can, you’ll go in with confidence and chutzpah. If you think about looking good, you’ll focus on yourself and be more likely to flounder. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and HAVE FUN!