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Preparing For Media Interviews

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This training builds volunteers’ interview skills, particularly for radio and television. Learn how to prepare for and respond to interview questions, keep the interview on track, and get your message across in the media.

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Setting up an interview

Before you can give an interview, you first have to set one up. That means your local media—your city’s newspaper, a local TV station, or a local radio station—has to know about the story you want to tell, and they have to be interested in covering it. Our “Generating Media Coverage” training explains how to make that happen.

For this training, let’s imagine that you or someone in your chapter has already reached out to local media, and a reporter has taken an interest in your story. They want to interview you later this week. Now what? 

Ask questions in advance

Ask a few questions to help you prepare for the interview:

  • What type of media is this interview for? If the interview is for a newspaper or magazine, the final story will be written down. If the interview is for TV or radio and will be seen or heard, then you’ll need to consider elements such as wardrobe and sound quality.
  • Will the interview be live or recorded, edited and broadcast later? 
  • How much time is set aside for the interview? 
  • What topic(s) will the interview cover?
  • Where will the interview take place or how will you connect with the reporter?
  • Who is interviewing you? How familiar are they with the topic of climate change or with your CCL chapter? 

Don’t be shy about asking for this information. All of this will help you to be prepared to give a good interview, which in turn helps the reporter. 

Prepare your message

The most important part of preparing for an interview is to get very clear on what you want to say, or your “talking points.” Those are the short, clear messages you want to get across in an interview. 

If your interview is a broadcast interview with limited time, such as for TV or radio, decide on one or two main messages to get across. Ask yourself, “If somebody only remembers one thing I say in this interview, what is the one thing I hope they remember?” 

According to Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a good message is:

  • High-level. Your main message can be conveyed in one, easy-to-repeat sentence.
  • Simple. Your main message doesn’t involve long words or complicated explanations.
  • Sticky. When people have heard your main message, they will remember it.

Beyond those main messages, you’ll need supporting messages you can use to expand on the topic if the reporter asks you a follow-up question. 

To develop those, you can use a method recommended by political and climate communications expert Aaron Huertas called the “and, but, therefore” method. Share your main message, use “and” to add a little more, use “but” to introduce some tension, and use “therefore” or “so” to provide the takeaway. 

For example: “We want Congress to pass big, national climate legislation, and our community supports that action. But Congress hasn’t acted yet, so we’re going to Washington, D.C., to meet with them in person.”

Practice: Bad, better, best

Let’s say you’re starting an interview, and the reporter opens with something simple like “So, what is Citizens’ Climate Lobby?” If you don’t have a talking point in your back pocket, you might find yourself struggling to sum up CCL and our work in a simple, clear way.

An ineffective answer might sound something like this: “We lobby Congress for H.R. 763, a carbon pricing policy (well, specifically, carbon fee and dividend style policy) that basically prices the externalities, or the costs, of burning fossil fuels, and allocates all that revenue back to Americans every month, so it reduces CO2 emissions.” There’s a fair amount of jargon and challenging language in here, and it doesn’t really capture CCL.

A better answer might sound something like: “We lobby Congress for climate change legislation, in particular a bill called the Energy Innovation Act, and we’ve had a lot of success so far - 80 cosponsors! We have volunteers all over the country, and we’re nonpartisan, and I just love CCL because I’ve been able to get so involved in something I’m passionate about.” It captures CCL a little more but is still a bit scattered.

The best answer you can give is one that’s simple, clear and thorough, like this: “Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a grassroots nonprofit organization working on climate change. We have more than 180,000 supporters nationwide, organized into local chapters, including our chapter here in [CITY]. We push Congress to pass big, national climate legislation.”

CCL’s recommended talking points

Good news: you don’t have to create all of your talking points from scratch when you’re going into an interview. CCL staff has already thought through some simple, clear, effective messages that you can put out there about CCL and about climate change. We’ve created a resource of general “Interview Talking Points” for you.

Before your interview, memorize these phrases so that you can recite them anytime you need them. You can mix and match as needed, but these basic phrases should be on the tip of your tongue going into an interview.

Of course, these general talking points probably won’t cover every interview situation you find yourself in. For example, a reporter may want to interview you about a local event you’re planning. If that’s the case, you’ll need to develop your own talking points that you can use to prepare for that interview. Remember the tips: a good main message is high-level, simple and sticky. Ask yourself: what is the one thing I want people to remember after they hear my interview?

Pivoting to your talking points

When you’re in the interview itself, the reporter may not always prompt you for exactly what you want to say. They could ask you for an opinion on something that’s not exactly related to your work, or they may frame a question in a negative or challenging way.

When that happens, pivot! Don’t get distracted by the question’s tone or an off topic question. Find a common thread between the question and your message (something that connects the two) and follow that thread back to your talking points. For demonstrations of how to do this, check out the video version of this training.

What not to say
  • Don’t repeat back something that is incorrect - this is a common mistake. For example, if asked about whether there is a debate over climate change, start by saying, “No. The scientific community agrees that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity.” Then pivot back to your main message. 
  • Don’t give long, complicated, qualified answers. If asked a straight question, give a straight answer. After being forthright, you can always go on to explain nuances with your answer, but start with a direct response rather than to give the impression of uncertainty.
  • Don’t argue, raise your voice, or badmouth anyone. Remember CCL’s values of respect and appreciation. This is particularly crucial in a media setting, because one snarky sentence could be the clip that gets broadcast. 
Other tips for live interviews

You’re allowed to stop talking. Especially in a live situation, it’s not your job to fill dead air. If you’ve gotten your main message out, you can stop talking, and the reporter will ask another question.

When you can sense the interview is winding down, try to squeeze in a “closer” - revisit your main message one last time.

Visual & audio considerations

CCL’s International Outreach Manager Cathy Orlando has gone through media training with Climate Reality, and she offers these tips:

  • On video, don’t slouch or sway back and forth.
  • On video, choose clothing in a solid color (avoid shiny or patterned fabrics)
  • On radio, take the call in a place with no background noise. Avoid fidgety sounds like clicking pens.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Smile.
More support

For more support on preparing for interviews, watch these in depth conversations with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Aaron Huertas. 

​​​​​Don’t forget to check out CCL’s “Interview Talking Points” resource.

For additional help, feel free to post your questions in the “Media Relations” forum.

Length
Press play to start the video (42m 28s)
https://vimeo.com/album/5508050
Video Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Intro & Agenda
(from beginning)

Pre-interview prep
(1:59)

Preparing your message
(6:05)

Practicing: Bad, better, best
(11:20)

CCL’s recommended talking points
(17:11)

Pivoting
(28:08)

Presentation tips
(37:15)

Instructor(s)
  • Flannery Winchester
Downloads

Download PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation.

Download the video.
Audio length
Press play to start the audio (42m 28s)
Audio embed code
Audio Outline

To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Intro & Agenda
(from beginning)

Pre-interview prep
(1:59)

Preparing your message
(6:05)

Practicing: Bad, better, best
(11:20)

CCL’s recommended talking points
(17:11)

Pivoting
(28:08)

Presentation tips
(37:15)

Instructor(s)
  • Flannery Winchester
Downloads
Discussion Topic
To Print
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Category
Training
Topics
Media Relations
Format
Audio / Video, Presentation
File Type
Google Slides, PowerPoint (.pptx)
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