Tips for Successful Radio Interviews

TELEVISION AND RADIO are very different. Television personalities, for example, usually wear suits and ties. Radio personalities often wear shorts and baseball caps. There are important similarities as well. They are both available 24 hours a day, and reach massive numbers of people. So, they are both great ways to get your message out.

But while everyone seems to be chasing after TV time, in many ways being on the radio can be even more effective. Why? Think of it this way: there are several hundred TV stations in the U.S., but there are several thousand radio stations. That means plenty of producers and show hosts looking for guests to interview.

Plus, radio interviews can usually be done by telephone. That means you don’t even have to leave the office and spend time traveling to and from a television station. And, you won’t need to puff on any pancake makeup or sit under hot lights. But, just as when you do television interviews, make sure you are smiling. Listeners really can hear a smile, and it will make you more likable.

In any interview, the most important thing is to stay on message. Make sure you have several catch phrases handy. Use these when the interviewer starts to veer off the topic you want to discuss. “That’s an interesting point, but what we really need to consider here is…” or “That’s worth considering, but the most important thing is…” or, everyone’s favorite, “That’s true, but at the end of the day…”

Those phrases will help you steer the interview where you want it to go. Remember that you want to control the interview. Another way to do that is quite simple: When you’re finished answering a question, stop speaking. A 25- or 30-second answer may seem short, but it’s usually ideal. That gives you time to answer the question and return to your talking point, but not to babble on.

Often the host will pause for a few seconds after you finish, hoping you’ll go on. Don’t. The second half of an answer is usually when people say more than they mean to, and when they often misspeak. During your first few radio interviews, the silent time will seem like an eternity, but it will really be only four or five seconds. It’s the host’s job to fill dead air. If you remain silent after finishing your response, he’ll quickly come back with another question, giving you another chance to deliver your message.

If you’re debating someone, do your homework. Often, your opponents will have regular talking points they return to again and again. By finding out what they’ve said before, you can identify their strongest argument, and take it off the table immediately.

For example, start off by saying, “Now, I know my opponent is concerned about ‘blank,’ but that’s not the issue here. The biggest problem we’re facing is…” That forces your opponent to change his approach, because if he comes right out with his usual stump speech, listeners will think he’s foolish. It also gives you another chance to shape the interview.

Finally, give the listener something to remember. There’s a reason advertisers use stories to sell their products: stories work. Whatever your policy proposal or position is, make sure you have plenty of success stories. Write them down on 3 x 5 note cards. Then, find places to insert them into interviews and debates. Listeners will find you much more persuasive if, instead of simply spouting statistics and rhetoric, you’re talking about real families enjoying real successes.

Remember – any interview is your interview. Make sure you’re taking it where you want to go, not simply answering questions. That will help you stay on message, and be an effective advocate of your policy position.

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