Answering Questions from the Media

In preparing for questions:

  • Anticipate what the interviewer or audience member may ask and have answers ready.
  • Answer patiently and confidently, and don't get defensive.
  • If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. Tell the questioner that you will get back to him/her with the answer. Get his/her name and number and follow up.
  • The best rule to follow is to address the question asked and then transition to a key message to redirect the discussion back to what you want to talk about.
  • Think like a reporter. State your most important point immediately, and then add to it if appropriate. That is how a reporter writes a story (not in sequence or chronological order, but with the most important point first).

Broadcast Interviews: The Basics
Being interviewed for television or radio is much different than being interviewed for a print publication. In addition to preparing for the questions that may be asked, keep these steps in mind:

  • Be Conversational: Viewers and listeners will never understand the fire service and safety as well as you do. Speak in terms they understand and which inspire them to take a desired action.
  • Be Brief: TV and radio are all about sound bites. And if your sound bite is re-purposed for use on a news website, the shorter it is, the faster the download and the better your chances of getting your message heard. Say your message in a 5-to-10 second sound bite.
  • Be Clear: A good example of being clear is stating one of your messages. That immediately leads to additional questions that will allow you to expand on that basic sound bite with supporting examples.
  • Body Language:  We use body language in normal conversation to make our points and involve our listeners. Don’t let nerves or the formality of an interview prevent you from using the same techniques.  For example, aim for good posture that displays your confidence; maintain eye contact with the reporter; and be energetic.
  • Bridge to Key Messages: Always respond to the question that you are asked, then within your response, you can use a transitional phrase to make another key point or to redirect the session back to one of your key messages. Examples of bridging phrases include:
    • "The bottom line is..."
    • "The key thing to remember is..."
    • "The point that is really important in all this is..."
    • "I can’t speculate on that but what I can tell you is..."
    • "On the contrary..."
    • "And that is just a reaffirmation of..."

10 Basic Interview Tips

  1. Reduce your message into three key points.
  2. Prepare responses to difficult questions.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Don't ramble.
  5. Be quotable! Start with a strong conclusion and then give the specifics.
  6. You are always "on the record".
  7. Stay in control. Never lose your cool.
  8. Do not speculate or answer questions outside of your responsibility.
  9. "No comment" is a comment.
  10. Be an accessible, reliable source


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