Preparing for Television & Radio Interviews
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.
Preparing for Television & Radio Interviews is part of the Working With Broadcast Media series.
Developing your main message
A good main 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.
If you are being interviewed about the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act, choose a few of the five main themes in CCL’s Energy Innovation Act Fact Sheet that you think will resonate most with your audience to develop your main message:
It's effective, good for people, good for the economy, bipartisan, and revenue neutral.
Visit the training on Communicating on the Energy Innovation Act for more general messaging recommendations. Though challenging, it’s essential to hone your message because otherwise no one will take away what's most important. To help, ask yourself, “If somebody only remembers one thing that I say in this interview, what is the one thing I hope they remember?”
Another example of an important climate change main message framework is one that we get from Tony Leiserowitz’s team at the Yale Climate Communications Project:
1. It's real
2. It's us
3. It's serious
4. There's solutions!
Expand your message into subpoints
Develop one or two subpoints for each main message. For example, if your main point is “Climate change is real,” be prepared to go into further explanation if asked (i.e. “we can see it happening all around us with these specific local impacts”) If the interviewer is interested in your main point, they’ll ask a follow-up question, and you can share your subpoints. If they don't ask you to go deeper, you can move on and highlight your other main messages.
A helpful framework to use in developing your subpoints is: “And,” “But,” “So.” Use it to effectively build a short narrative to tell your story to any question you may get asked.
We know climate change is important
AND we need bipartisan solutions
BUT policymakers need to see broad support for climate action to overcome polarization
SO we’re showing them there’s a bipartisan way forward, and that’s the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act.
The importance of practice
Time is of the essence. When you are live, you only get one short chance to convey your message---media sound bites can be as short as 10 seconds, and interviews only last a few minutes. That’s it. It’s absolutely essential to practice ahead of time, so you can be ready to get your message across quickly and clearly.
So, grab a friend! Interviewing isn’t easy, and veteran media trainers emphasize the important of practicing an interview with a buddy. With that buddy, you can practice staying on message. Your interviewer might try to lead you down a rabbit trail to distract from the real conversation. Instead, practice pivoting back to your main messages.
Be prepared to feel awkward and challenged your first interview. That's okay and is part of the learning experience. Improvisation is key to feeling flexible and ready for action when the real interview takes place. Whether alone or in your group’s media outreach team, practice how you would stick to your message with the following gotcha questions:
- Isn't your policy intended to put an entire industry out of business?
- Wouldn't a warmer climate be better in most ways?
- Isn't it crazy to think that the president would sign a bill like yours?
Keeping to your main message is key for any successful interview. In responding to any question, follow these steps:
- 1.Understand what’s really being asked
- 2. Address the question
- 3. Relate the question back to your main message
Another example: someone asks you about why we should act and lose out to China. Your response: “Did you know that China is already doing far more than we are to fix this problem? Because there are solutions.” Pivot back to whatever part of your message fits best, and build on it from there with your subpoints.
Why journalists ask questions
Understanding why journalists ask questions helps you answer questions in ways that help journalists and advance our advocacy goals.
- Getting quotes. In many of your interviews, journalists will be looking for sound bites they use to drop into stories.
- Getting Examples. Journalists need vignettes, stories and stats to illustrate what’s happening.
- Keeping You Talking! Journalists keep sources talking to get more information from them. Sometimes it’s a series of questions. Other times it’s sitting back and letting you do the talking.
Anticipating standard and difficult questions
- Gotcha! Journalists often test your position to resolve perceived or real hypocrisies.
- It won’t work! Journalists are realists, and on tough issues, that can come across as pessimistic.
- Spill the beans! Journalists are here to bring new information to light - they’ll want to know how your meetings went.
- The T-word. Trump is an attention-generating machine. Decide how much of your message you want to be Trump-related.
- Real Support. Journalists are skeptical of online activism, advertising and flash. Focus on concrete power and accomplishments.
- Red vs. Blue. On climate, in particular, it’s hard to stay non-partisan and it’s easy to fall into false equivalencies.
Ask ahead of time
- Make sure you know what the conversation is going to be about.
- Make sure you know what your two or three main messages you will prioritize getting across.
- If possible, make sure you know who you’re talking to. Understanding where they will be coming from is really important. Will they be neutral, friendly or perhaps slightly hostile?
What to avoid
- Remember: never say anything bad about anybody. The media loves conflict - it drives readership but unfortunately perpetuates divisions on this issue. If asked a question to drive a conflict-based response refer back to your main message - otherwise your one sentence response will be the one that gets covered.
- Arguing is not helpful. Steer clear from debating or arguing over at the science of climate change. Social science shows that when we argue over whether it's a natural cycle or the sun, etc. we let ourselves get caught in a trap. We've immediately lost all our momentum, we're not changing anybody's mind, and we've completely lost our ability to get our key messages through.
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 (i.e. “it's serious” or “there are solutions” and you’re right back to your main message.
- Don’t repeat back something that is incorrect. It’s our natural human instinct to repeat and if you’re not used to being interviewed repeating the question is one of the most common mistakes people make. Don’t waste your precious time on air or affirm something you’ll be on record for acknowledging. Instead, be clear about what they said without repeating it and go back to your main message exactly.
- Don’t raise your voice. When someone is trying to talk over you in a strident tone and is not letting you express yourself, don't try to talk over them. That's what they're expecting you to do. Instead, simply say their name starting quietly, and keep repeating it in an even tone but elevated slowly until they eventually stop. Be ready with your one sentence response because that’s all you’ll often have.
- 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.
Sample question and answer
So why is your group on the Hill lobbying about climate change today?
Well, the thing we have to understand about climate change is that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere right now is more than 400 parts per million and that’s much higher than it was in pre-industrial times, so the first thing we need to do is put policies in place that reduce the CO2…
We’re asking lawmakers to put a price on carbon pollution. Climate change is urgent, and we need this nationwide policy to address it.
In the end, it's all about being prepared and practiced in delivering your main message. Have it on the tip of your tongue, where if in your sleep someone woke you up and shined a light in your face, you’d be ready to fire them off!
Intro & Agenda
Developing a Message
Sticking to Your Message
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.
Intro & Agenda
Developing a Message
Sticking to Your Message
Looking for more? Renowned climate scientist and CCL Advisory Board member Dr. Katharine Hayhoe helps you get ready by sharing how she prepares for live radio and TV interviews.Join the Broadcast Media Action Team.