Five Tips for Doing Effective Interviews with Journalists

A KEY TO ADVANCING your organization’s agenda is being an effective communicator in interviews with print and broadcast journalists. Here are some important things to remember:

1. Know what you want to say.

Before going in for an interview, think about the one thing you want those who see or read you to remember, then say it yourself in one sentence. This is your basic message.

Make sure you have two or three main points that amplify or reinforce your message. You should be able to sum each point up in a sentence or two. That brief statement will be your soundbite.

For example, if your organization is in favor of lower taxes, start off by saying something like “taxes are too high, and we’re working to lower them.” Your supporting points might be like this: “Most Americans pay nearly half of their total income in taxes to Uncle Sam and their state and local governments. That’s too much and we think people should be able to keep more of the money they earn.” Even if the host should cut you off, you’ll have already said what you wanted to say.

2. Stay on your basic message.

Make sure that, no matter what the question is, you give an answer that supports your basic message. Remember – the interviewer will have his own agenda, so you must have yours.

This doesn’t mean you should be impolite. You do need to acknowledge his or her questions, but make sure to include your talking points in the answer. For example, if you’re in favor of school choice, but the interviewer asks how your organization is funded, you can’t simply ignore the question. People will assume you have something to hide.

Try this: “We’re funded by 400,000 Americans who understand that education is the key to our children’s future and that choice is the best way to help them escape failing schools, so they can attend good schools and get a good education.”

3. Be likable.

It’s sad but true: conservatives too often come across as cold and uncaring, while liberals are seen as friendly and engaging. You’ll be surprised how much better you look if you just SMILE!

This also means that – as much as possible – you should refrain from responding to attacks. If your host, or another guest, attacks you, just smile like Ronald Reagan did and say, “I’m not interested in personal attacks. My concern here is making sure that the government cuts taxes and Americans get to keep more of the money they earn.” If you get angry, people at home will also assume you have something to hide.

4. Dress well.

Do wear a well-tailored suit, navy or gray; textured weaves like wool or cashmere look better on TV. Do wear a blue, rose or tan shirt or blouse. Never white. Men should be sure to wear long socks; short socks can expose your skin when you cross your legs. Women should be conscious of skirt length. In some interview settings a too-short skirt will detract from your presentation.

Men should choose a tie with a simple design that won’t jump on camera. Try folding your tie in half from side to side. Do both sides look the same? If so, it’s probably a good choice. Don’t wear herringbone, plaid or busy striped suits or dresses. It will be hard for the camera to focus on you, and you’ll seem to be moving, even when sitting still. Don’t wear bright jewelry, including tie bars, lapel pins, broaches or large earrings.

5. Tape your appearances.

You’ll be your own harshest critic. Be sure to acquire – and review – a video or audio recording of your presentation. Practice is the only way to get better.

Mr. Tucker is Manager of Professional Development and Training for The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Media and Public Policy.