Mar 18, 2011
You’ve done the hard work–you developed a communications strategy, wrote media materials and pitched reporters. And voila! The local television station wants to interview your organization about your issue. Here are 11 tips to improve your spokesperson skills.
1. Practice, practice, practice. I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Some call in the three Rs–rehearse, role play, repeat. Review your key messages and materials beforehand. Know what you want to say in the interview. Ask a colleague, friend or partner to quiz you as if he were the reporter.
2. Be prepared for hard questions. Draft tough questions in advance, and think through how you’d answer them. Then ask your colleague to ask you those questions. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ exists for a reason.
3. Keep it simple. Remember, most broadcast interviews will be edited down to a sound byte here or a couple seconds there. Keep your answers short and simple. Don’t use jargon. And as I’m fond of saying, use the Grandma Test. If your grandma can’t understand what you’re talking about, then you’re probably making it too complicated.
4. But don’t answer with just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Use every question as an opportunity to tell your story. If the reporter asks you, “Was it disappointing when the legislation to support more affordable housing wasn’t passed?”, you could just answer ‘yes’ but you’d be missing a chance to promote your message. Expand on why, talk about what else can still be done, discuss the impact of that legislation. Use the opportunity to drive your message home.
5. Body language and facial expressions matter. How you sit, how often you smile, when you make eye contact – these things matter for television. Make it easier to convey expertise and authority by practicing good posture. Smile to put the interviewer and the audience at ease. Make eye contact with the reporter to develop a relationship and to convey the fact that an engaging conversation is happening.
6. Don’t fidget. We all have tics that come out when we’re nervous–we rock back and forth or we keep our arms crossed or we play with our hair. If you practice (see tip #1), you can identify these “tells” and address them in advance to appear calm and comfortable during the interview.
7. Paint the picture. If you’re talking about the need for more funding for schools, can you show the camera tattered books? Can you walk the reporter through a school in disrepair? If you can’t take the television crew on location, use colorful, descriptive words to paint the picture for the audience.
8. Tell the human story. Offer the reporter someone who has been directly impacted by your issue. Ask that person to be available to be interviewed as well. If they aren’t able to tell their own story, have a compelling example ready for the reporter. In your own words, tell them why your organization makes a difference for someone.
9. Dress for the camera. Solid, bright colors work best for television. That said, avoid an all white shirt if you’re fair skinned or an all black shirt if you have darker skin because they’ll wash you out. Avoid busy patterns–they don’t translate well on the screen. Pick a nice solid color (you’ll see a lot of blues, yellows and purples on TV reporters). If you plan to wear a dark suit or a blazer, where a colored shirt or tie underneath. And, think about where they can clip the mic. Do you have a lapel? A turtleneck won’t work. Finally, avoid anything that will distract from your message such as sunglasses or large hats.
10. If you don’t know, don’t make it up. If the reporter asks you a question you don’t know, it’s okay not to know. You can answer the question in a couple different ways. 1) “I don’t know the answer to that. Let me check on that when I get back to the office.” This works especially well if the interview is being taped. Or 2) “I don’t know the answer to that question, what I do know is…(and then promote one of your key messages).” The second technique is called ‘bridging’ and you’ll see skilled spokespeople do this regularly.
11. If the audience remembers one thing… Know your key messages in advance of the interview. If your target audience sees the story on the news the next night and only remembers one thing about it, what do you want them to remember? This is your key message, and you should use every opportunity during the interview to make that point.
The Community Media Workshop conducts media, messaging, social media and spokesperson trainings for hundreds of nonprofits each year. If you’re interested in learning more about how to become an effective spokesperson, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org