Whether you are building bike lanes or bridges, creating something new in our crowded cities is invariably controversial. From activists to engineers, if you are involved in change it is only a matter of time before you’ll be interrogated by the press, hungry for their next scoop. If that’s a terrifying prospect, places are on sale now for our seminar Achieving Change in a Hostile Media Environment.
In the interim, here’s our easy guide to surviving a media interview:
- Know what you’re getting in to..
Will the interview be live or recorded? Will you be “up against” someone with a contrary view? In the studio, down the line or out on location? What is the format of the show? Who else is your interviewer talking to? If you’re being interviewed remotely, or by a foreign network, what time zone will it take place in? Broadcast in your language or translated?
Forewarned is forearmed! Knowing where, when, and with who means you can predict the sort of questions you’re likely to be asked, and begin preparing your answers. Talk to the production assistant who calls you to arrange everything and don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s their job, and they want you to do well.
I once went on Canadian radio to talk alongside larger-than-life former Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford. Ford was famous for his somewhat tabloid views cities, cars and bicycles. Finding out who I was going up against, and knowing what they were likely to say, meant I could plan a strong line of defence in advance. As it turned out Ford couldn’t make the interview due to other commitments but had he been there and I hadn’t prepared, he would have eaten me alive.
- Practice, practice, practice..
You might think people talking on the television are having an off-the-cuff conversation, but professional interviewees always prepare what they’re going to say in advance.
What is the key message you want to convey to an audience? What sound bites can you prepare which will get your point across? Do your homework on the kind of programme you’re going to appear on, the tone it uses, and who you might be speaking against, and prepare what you are going to say accordingly.
Before any interview I always write down three sentences, each a different point, and then practice saying them physically out loud. If the line of questioning gets too hard, or if – heaven forbid! – my mind goes blank, I’ve always got those sound bites to fall back on.
- Control your image..
Is a photographer coming to take your picture? Do a TV crew want to film you on the streets? Whatever the scenario, always control your image. Do you need to come across as sensible, tolerant and smart? Then look the part. Want to be seen as a rowdy activist? Dress for the role. For TV, avoid pinstripes, plaids and paisley, all of which “swim” on the screen under studio lights. Think about your appearance (clothing labels, hair style, piercings) and what might detract from your key messages.
Think about how you are going to look through a lens. What is behind you, and could it change the viewer’s perception of your story?
In 2011 I was interviewed on Blackfriars Bridge during a protest against plans to make it incredibly dangerous for cyclists. The cameraman wanted to show the inevitable traffic congestion, but I wanted my words – not traffic jams – to be the focus. We span the camera round so that as I spoke the background was London’s determined cycling community. Pictures speak a thousand words, and small visual details go a long way – pay attention to where they’re pointing the camera and control your image.
Just before you begin your interview take three deep breaths, recite your three sound bites and force yourself to smile. Be yourself, take your time, and you’ll be convincing people that you’re right before you can so much as say “stage fright”.
Have you been in print, on the radio or appeared on television? How did you prepare and what was your experience? Share your experiences and continue this discussion over on the Strategic Cities Facebook page.
Interested in our Achieving Change In A Hostile Media Environment seminar? Registrations are open now.