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How to Direct an Interview

InterviewsStaying in control of an interview can help you get your message out—and save you from future headaches. Skilled spokespeople can take any question thrown at them, answer it, and bring it back to their original message—all within a few sentences. Below are some tips for directing interviews.

Ask questions before accepting to do an interview

Be sure you know the angle the journalist is coming from and who else is being interviewed.

Take time to prepare

Even the most skilled media spokespeople will take a few minutes to prepare. If the reporter is on deadline, ask to call him or her back in five minutes. That should be enough time to give you a chance to focus on your key messages.

Never answer questions you don't understand

If they ask you a question that’s vague or needs clarification, ask. Interviews aren’t one-way streets.

Be sure you understand the question

Don’t ever answer a question you don’t thoroughly understand. Even if you’re live, on air, ask a reporter to repeat the question or rephrase it. Restate it yourself, buying time to compose an answer, but be especially sure you understand just what you’re being asked. You may even clear up the reporter’s confusion or misstatement.

Think before you answer

You can always buy yourself time by saying, “That’s a good question.” You can also pause before you begin your answer to get your thoughts in order.

Avoid one-word answers

“Yes” and “No” won’t help you get your point across. Take the opportunity to expand, or bring the conversation back to your main message.

Flag important statements

By saying “The most important thing here is...” or “The real issue here is . . .” you not only get the reporter’s attention, you get the audience’s attention too. These are also good transitional phrases when you want to redirect the interviewers question to your key message.

Don't repeat the reporter's bad phrasing

For example, if a reporter says, “but isn’t it true that libraries are no longer necessary because of the Internet,” don’t respond using that bad opinion by saying, “no, it isn’t true that libraries are no longer necessary.” Instead, turn it around to something positive: “Librarians are your ultimate search engine” and so forth.

Beware of leading questions

Some reporters try to influence interviews by saying “Would you say” or “isn’t it true.” Avoid following into the trap of agreeing with them. If you don’t agree, or if it’s not true, but sure to say, “No. Actually, the truth is . . .”

Stay "on message"

If an interview starts on the wrong topic, be sure to bring it back to what you’re really there to discuss. You can do that by “bridging,” such as, “well, that’s an interesting question, but what we really need to address is . . .”

Hook your interviewer

By saying “There are three important point here . . .” the interviewer (and the audience) is automatically waiting for those three points. It grabs the interviewer’s attention, and they can’t cut you off before you finish the three points without annoying their audience.

Build a bridge

This is a technique that lets you “build a bridge” from a reporter’s agenda to your own. For example: “That’s an important question, Fred, but what’s critical for people to know about library literacy is . . .” These and several other techniques can help you keep control of the interview, make sure you get your points across, and speak directly to the television audience. Your conversation must always be geared to the viewer—not the reporter.

Excerpted from the American Library Association’s A Communications Handbook for Libraries, published in Summer of 2004. To see A Communications Handbook for Libraries in full, please visit: http://www.ala.org/ala/pio/availablepiomat/online_comm_handbook.pdf.

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