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Giving the knockout media interview

Simple techniques to help you look good on TV, be the person quoted in next day's newspaper and, most importantly, get your message across successfully.

By Kristin Merriman
May 2003

Whether you are a bicycle coordinator, a statewide advocate, or a candidate for city council, the chances are good that someday you will be contacted to deliver a knock-out interview on TV or radio. The opportunity to deliver a crucial safety message, invite people to join your group, or promote Bike to Work Day is one you can't afford to miss because of a bad hair day. The following simple techniques can help you look good on TV, be the person quoted in next day's newspaper and, most importantly, get your message across successfully.

photo of two people talking

Have a single message

This is the NUMBER ONE piece of advice I can give. Deliver your message at least three times if possible. Keep framing your answers to further that message. If you stammer or go blank in the middle of a sentence, start over; radio and print media will simply edit that out. Television probably will, too, but it's not assured.Know your stuff.

Make sure you have the latest facts and figures on trail and bicycle use, ISTEA projects, or other interview topics. Glance through your information an hour prior to the interview, so the language, phrasing and information is fresh in your mind.

Practice, practice, practice

Have family members or friends throw some practice questions at you so you can learn to respond coherently, concisely and quickly. This sounds silly, but it can be a huge help. The most obvious ones to practice? "What does your organization do?" "How can someone get involved in your organization?" "Is bicycling really a serious option for people?"

"Smile! You are providing a terrific service to people who really want to make a difference in their communities!"

Don't be afraid to provide a list of suggested questions to interviewers, especially those in radio and TV. Reporters are often more than happy to have your help since you, not they, are the "experts." The trick here is to know what is "news" and to have a few local examples at hand. You greatly increase your chance of controlling the interview questions if a local angle is involved.

Don't forget to plug your organization. Be sure to refer to your group or agency by its full name, not an acronym. ("At the Bicycle Federation of America, we have an Action Kit that will help people learn what they can do to make their neighborhoods more bicycle-friendly.") Provide the reporter with the correct spelling of your name, title and organization. Know the address and phone number of your organization BY HEART and be prepared to give the exact amount a report, brochure or membership costs if a viewer or listener has to buy it.

Project a good image

Image is everything on TV, and wearing an inappropriate shirt or makeup can quickly distract from your message.

Women: Wear a colored suit or simple dress. Do not wear bright red -- the camera has a hard time focusing on it. Yellow also is not an attractive color for many people on TV; I'm told it breeds hostility. My personal favorites: navy, silver or dark gray, cream. Black will wash you out unless you have strong features and black hair. Blouses and dresses that go all the way to the neck or near the neck are the most flattering. Avoid ruffles and lace -- they are too sweetsy for a professional image on TV!

Keep clothes simple and professional. DO NOT WEAR A SHORT SKIRT for obvious reasons. Match your nylons to your shoes, not your skirt. Keep jewelry fairly large. No dangle earrings or distracting hoops. Try not to wear anything sparkly. A nice pin on your blouse or suit lapel is always good. Do wear earrings, even if you have to buy clips. Pearls look especially good on TV.

Men: A suit or sports jacket, nice pants and a simple tie look good. Navy and gray are good colors for men. About those ties -- forget polka dots. A conservative tie with fairly wide stripes or a not-too-wild paisley or diamond-shaped design is best. Clothes should not be black, yellow or green (unless you want your skin to look yellow).Match socks to your shoes, not pants. Wear a clean shirt that is light gray or ivory but not a yellowy cream. Don't choose pure white, either -- it's too bright.

For men and women: Hairstyles should be neat, simple and preferably off the face. DO NOT spray your hair after you have put on makeup and powder -- a sheen will show up on your skin. Consider how your hair looks from the side. Makeup for women AND MEN should also be kept simple. Women will need to go with a deeper blush, a bit more mascara, a non-frosted lipstick and foundation all the way up to the eyes. Powder is an absolute must for both women and men. Believe me, you will regret it otherwise -- studio lights are very hot, and you will be a bit nervous.

Speak clearly

Drop the "ums," "ya knows" and "wells." Don't talk too fast or for too long. Take a few seconds to think before you speak. Take a few deep breaths to relax a few moments before the camera is on.

Keep eye contact with the interviewer or fellow guests. A person is usually comfortable looking into the eyes of another person for three seconds; just move your eyes around his or her face -- to earrings, forehead, any place above the nose. This helps keep your own head up and prevents shadows under the chin that add weight to your face. Strong eye contact also relays the message of confidence and knowledge.If you normally wear glasses, wear them. Just remember to push them up on your nose to avoid shadows under your eyes. If you find you are spending a lot of time on TV, consider non-reflective lenses. They eliminate the distracting glare of lights against glass and highlight your eyes -- your most important means of expression.Watch your body language. Don't be afraid to use hand and arm motions, just don't point a finger in the interviewer's face.

Women should sit with legs crossed, preferably at the ankles. Sit on the bottom of your jacket to keep a clean line along your shoulders (this applies to men and women). Look at whoever is speaking to you. Try not to yawn, look bored or show anger. Squinting eyes is the most obvious sign of the latter. Try to stay relaxed and nod slightly once in a while to demonstrate you are listening. Do not fuss with your hair or clothes, except when you first sit down and get adjusted. Usually, the host or reporter will tell you if something is obviously amiss but feel free to ask them questions about how the cameras are set up, the frequency of breaks, etc.

Give anecdotes if possible. Everybody likes a story -- they are excellent ways to make a point -- but don't ramble. Smile! You are providing a terrific service to people who really want to make a difference in their communities!

Kristin Merriman is editor of Fisheries, the monthly membership magazine of the American Fisheries Society. She has provided media training and services to the BFA and the staff and members of national associations in the Washington area. Merriman authored Using the Media to Achieve Your Goals in the Pro Bike/Pro Walk 94 Resource Book.

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