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Guidelines for Successful Interviews

The following are some guidelines to keep in mind when you go into an interview.

  1. Make it clear at the outset whether you're speaking for yourself or on behalf of the university. Provide your full name and title.
  2. Present your main points and conclusions first. This introduces the reporter to the ideas you wish to present and helps focus the interview. If complex information is being dealt with, sum up at the end of the interview. A succinct statement, written in advance, is an excellent way to ensure full understanding, particularly for complex technical stories.
  3. State and explain your viewpoint clearly and frequently throughout the interview. When you move to more important points, repeat the main points to avoid any misunderstanding.
  4. When asked your opinion on items in the news, avoid making ad hominem comments. You can say that a government report reaches faulty conclusions without criticizing the author and belittling his research techniques and abilities. Emphasize that your research in the area has led you to different conclusions, rather than bluntly contradicting the government experts.
  5. Respond to parts of questions, or rephrase them, so that you minimize the risk of misinterpretation.
  6. Try to use uncomplicated language, avoiding jargon, acronyms, and difficult terms. Remember that technical terms are a foreign language to the non-expert. If you use them they will have to be translated by the reporter, and you may not be pleased with the translation.
  7. Avoid words like disaster, breakthrough or stupid. They invite the reporter to treat the story in a sensational way.
  8. Be prepared for questions about the relevance of the story and its ethical, legal, economic or political implications.
  9. Take the time to collect your thoughts before answering difficult questions. If necessary, tell the reporter you would like time to consider the question and get back to him after the interview. Then prepare a written answer, telephone the reporter and dictate your response to him.
  10. If you are asked a question that you really don't wish to answer, say so and stand by your decision. However, be prepared for the reporter to press you on the point from several different angles and at different times during the discussion. You are always better off deflecting a question (see above), when the interview is finished.
  11. If you don't know the answer to a question, be honest and admit it. If the information is important to the story, you can offer to get it for the reporter when the interview is finished.
  12. Only make statements you can support with facts.
  13. Use one or two examples to explain your position, rather than enumerating a list of supporting facts. Sacrifice comprehensiveness for simplicity and force. After all, the average length of a newspaper story is about 400 words, while radio for television reports can be as brief as 30 seconds.
  14. If relevant, have copies of books, reports or speeches available for the reporter.

Published in HotLink Number 1, Fall 1996, this article was reprinted with permission from the Simon Fraser University World Wide Web site at:

See also:
Getting the Most from Interviews
Off the Record
After the interview
Backing it Up
Involve Your Audience During TV Interviews
Oh, the Mistakes Spokespeople Make: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Blow an Interview
When Bad Things Happen to Good Spokespeople: Handling Tough Interviews
Meeting the Media Face-to-Face
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