James Bullen is a journalist, audio producer and researcher with more than a decade of experience in news and broadcast media. I asked him for advice on how to conduct a suitable media interview. Here are the tips I want to share with you:
1. The main thing is to enjoy it and think of it as a chat with a friend to an extent. The interviewer wants you to sound as good as possible and is there to facilitate your success (for an information-type interview – different if you’re a politician!). This helps you in coming across well to the listener.
2. You might be tempted to over-prepare in terms of writing out responses, especially if you may have been given questions beforehand. I would advise against this – it can make you sound somewhat ‘read’ and the conversation doesn’t flow naturally, which is important for podcasts. It is absolutely fine to have key dot points you want to mention / that you don’t want to forget.
3. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know in response to a question if it’s a strange question or not quite in your area of expertise. I think a good way to pivot from these kinds of questions that I’ve often heard is, “we’re not sure about that .. but something interesting related to that is [thing you actually want to talk about]…” Or you can say something like … “we actually don’t know/aren’t sure about that, but we want to do more work in that area // want to find out about that because …”
4. If possible, it is often useful to listen to a few previous episodes of the podcast/radio program in question to get a sense of the tone of the show (is it light? Serious? How does the host approach an interview and how are researchers positioned in the story compared to others such as patients or consumers?). This can help set your expectations for the interview.
5. Because it’s a pre-record, it’s fine to go back and do an answer again if you feel like you want to change the way you’ve answered something // aren’t happy with your answer. It can be good to wait until the end of the interview to ask if you can please go back and fix something up. Again, it’s in their interests for you to sound good so they should be happy to do this!
6. It can be good to check with the host or producer about who the audience of the pod is – is it academics, is it the general public? That can help shape how you answer questions and the detail you go into. If it’s the general public, I always used to imagine I was chatting to a friend or my mum, and explain things to that level – e.g. you might have to quickly explain what an RCT is or why a high sample size is important if it’s aimed at the general public, probably not for academics.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask to add something extra at the end of the interview if the interviewer has missed it and you think it’s important to the conversation – they can always splice it in to the chat in the editing process. If they’re on top of this they should ask you anyhow, at the end of the chat – “is there anything else you want to add or anything we’ve missed?”
8. Examples, anecdotes, stories are great for journalists. It’s obviously very great to talk about the outcomes and effect sizes seen in a study or explain your findings, but people engage especially with emotion and story – if you’re able to talk about real people and the changes you’ve seen them go through in your work, fieldwork, funny stories, surprising facts or findings – that’s all things the audience would connect with and that journos love. Though don’t stress if you don’t have these or don’t feel comfortable sharing them – this would just be a bonus.