Giving Great Media Interviews: The Basics

Before an interview

  • Learn as much as you can about the interview.  What’s the angle of the story? What’s the line of questioning? Will it be on radio or television, will it be live or pre-recorded, over the phone, in a studio, in the office, by phone?  Ask how long the final piece will be so you can work on the length of your answers to adjust.
  • Whenever possible, correct their false assumptions ahead of time with the interviewer. “No, we’re not protesting all development projects, just this one because of its impact on the climate.”
  • If this is a high stakes interview or you have the time, research the interviewer.  Review their past interviews. What is their position on the issue?  What is their style as an interviewer — friendly, casual, aggressive, intellectual?  Look at successful interviewees and what they do to come across as credible.  
  • Think from the point of view of the audience so you can most effectively communicate the message.  A major downfall of poor interviews is when we talk just like we talk amongst our own group of committed activists.  We need to adjust, assuming our audience may not know what we know and may have different concerns on their minds.
  • Envision what a successful outcome of the interview would be. Think about the 2-4 key messages you want to get across.
  • Given what you know about the interviewer, the venue, or the context, anticipate the kinds of questions you might get and practice answers. A mock interview with a colleague can build your confidence and clarify messages. Memorized answers often sound insincere and boring, so practice speaking in your own voice.
  • Make sure you have the latest information on the interview topic. Assemble stories, new updates, and facts that support the cause.
  • Have an example ready to illustrate the core of the issue. Nothing works better than an example that the audience can easily identify with. “The time to divest is upon us. In France, our streets are flooded from torrential rains caused by climate change. The Seine and Loire rivers are filled with the rising sea levels, increasing the chances of more floods in our future.”


During the interview

  • The most important thing: Get the key messages into the early part of the interview and repeat them throughout.
  • Speak to the concerns of the audience. Speak with conviction and argue your case with enthusiasm, passion, and inspiration.
  • Be specific. Use brief, positive statements of one or two sentences.
  • Use everyday language. Avoid jargon and acronyms, e.g. CO2, carbon bubble, etc.  (This is another reminder: you have to speak to your audience!)
  • Speak in short, complete sentences (sound bites). Complete sentences should encapsulate the key messages.
  • Be anecdotal. Tell brief stories or personal experiences to illustrate your key point.
  • Don’t tell the media what you are doing, tell them why you are doing it.  
  • Be accurate. Always avoid general, vague statements. If you don’t know the answer, bridge to what you do know (It’s okay to say “I’ll get back to you on that” or “I’m not aware of ___, but what we do know is that ____” rather than give misinformation. Giving misinformation will remove credibility and it’s hard to win back! This also gives opponents the opportunity to use it against us).
  • Mention facts and figures that sound authoritative and impressive in illustrating the scale of a problem or solution.
  • Make sure you have the latest information on the subject of the interview. Check your sources for background and latest developments.
  • Speak at a moderate pace. This is especially true for radio and TV interviews.
  • Use questions to bridge back to your core message.  A well-known technique is the “ABC” method:
  1. Acknowledge the question
  2. Bridge
  3. Content (the message)

When asked a question not on your message, you start by acknowledging the question and then use a “bridge” to get back to your point, as examples:

  • “That’s an issue, but what the public are most concerned about is …”
  • “Some say that but what our research shows is…”
  • “Yes that debate will run and run, and today we are focussed on…”
  • “That’s one view, but we need to look at how this fits into the bigger picture…”
  • Practice avoiding sentences with “Ummm” and “Ahhhh,” which can give the impression of lack of certainty/confidence.
  • As much as possible, don’t distract from your message, e.g. in the way you look or speak.
  • Know your message and practice. Keeping repeating your message.

See Giving Great Media Interviews: Advanced Techniques and Media Interviews: TV and Radio for more interview pointers.