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When the News Media Call

Press Conference 025

Over the last week, I’ve been interviewed by a number of media outlets about our simple, minimalist lifestyle. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to reach more people and connect with a larger audience.

At my last job, I spent a lot of time working with the media and coordinating interviews for my supervisors. But I was never in the spotlight. So I have to admit, all the attention feels a little odd and overwhelming. It’s also prompted intense self examination about my writing, lifestyle choices, and my communication skills. And I think that’s a really good thing.

The experience has also brought up a number of questions and thoughts about messaging, authenticity, and privacy. Things like:

  • If you talk to a lot of reporters during one week, does it dilute your message or strengthen it?
  • How do you distill your life story into a sound byte? And is that really even possible?

Tips on talking with the media.

Whether you’re a blogger or a small business owner, chances are you’ll be interviewed by print or broadcast media sometime in your career. In essence, an interview is a presentation tailored to a topic and audience. It is also an excellent opportunity to tell your story and introduce your small business to a new audience.

Prior to giving interviews, it is a good idea to practice. For instance, you can videotape yourself and then critique your public speaking skills or you can practice by giving mock interviews and speaking extemporaneously. Once you start practicing, each interview will become easier and you’ll be able to state key messages in a variety of situations.

Here are a few key points to remember when talking to reporters:

  • Speak naturally.
  • Avoid lengthy technical explanations.
  • Know the reporters name, publication/program, interview format, and audience.
  • Ask about the goal of the interview. Inquire about the type of information that will be gathered or shared.
  • Prepare for a multitude of questions to be asked.
  • Television is a visual media format and it is important to wear appropriate clothing.

Interview guidelines to consider.

Below are key guidelines to help you through the interview process.

1. Return a reporter’s call immediately and gather key information from the reporter. Ask the reporter about their deadline, what the story is about, and how you fit into the story.

2. Questions & tips to consider as you prepare for your interview. Ask yourself:

  • What is my message?
  • What specific examples can I cite to demonstrate this message?
  • What kind of tough questions should I expect?

3. Stay on message. An interview is not a debate, it is an opportunity to share your story. Remember to bridge from the reporter’s question to your own talking point. For instance, you can say: “Yes, that seems to be a key element of the problem, however what we are trying to highlight is…”.

4. After the interview. Send a thank you note to the reporter. And don’t forget to offer to be an ongoing source of support for support for future stories.

5. And here are a few final tips.

  • Be prepared for a reporter to call after the interview to double check quotes.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • There is no such thing as “off-the record.”
  • And most importantly, don’t guess, speculate or lie during an interview.

It’s okay to say no.

I’ve also learned that it’s not possible to say yes to everyone. I’ve received a lot of requests from reporters and TV producers who want to talk with me; it’s a great feeling, but I also have to be realistic. I can’t say yes to every media request, even though I would love the opportunity to connect with new people.

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Don’t forget, Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself launches on August 31st!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Logan August 18, 2010, 7:03 am

    Great article!

    I really found this advice helpful. I always used to get nervous around reporters and worried that I may say the wrong thing.

  • Cajun Chef Ryan August 18, 2010, 7:12 am

    Tammy, great tips on dealing with the media. I would suppose that after the NY Times article from last week than reporters would be hunting you down more than in the past.

  • Rebecca August 18, 2010, 7:35 am

    I work in the TV industry and have spent time both in front of and behind the camera. I know what a nerve-wracking experience it can be… it’s completely intimidating. Great advice!
    You and your husband are a true inspiration. Thank you!

  • camille August 18, 2010, 7:47 am

    The biggest thing I learned from a media training I once received is your number 3 above: you don’t actually have to answer questions if you don’t feel they’ll shine a positive light on you and your story. It should *sound* like you’re answering the question when what you’re really doing is redirecting it to one of the two or three key messages you want to get across. It takes practice to do it smoothly, but once you know about it you start noticing the technique in every single interview you listen to on the radio or the television. 🙂

    • et August 18, 2010, 8:19 pm

      Sliding off the question has always struck me as lazy or disinterested interviewing. If the question is important enough to ask, then the interviewer should rephrase or ask again.
      “Sounding” like you are answering the question comes across as evasive.

      But then I am often forthright to a fault, and don’t partake of mainstream media, so don’t pay too much attention to this.

      • camille August 19, 2010, 7:58 am

        I completely agree with you in theory, as I consider myself a forthright/intellectually honest person too, and that’s exactly why this was the biggest/hardest thing I took away from that media training: although it looks like it, an interview is not a discussion. It’s a power play: you can either choose to play the interviewer’s game and go where he/she wants you to go (which might not be beneficial to you), or you can use the opportunity of airtime to get your own message across instead.

        And from what I’ve experienced/witnessed so far, unless it’s a controversial topic and you’re a political figure, the interviewer seldom insists you answer that first question, if you manage to slide off it smoothly and artfully.

        But naturally, if you don’t have a message (i.e. a book/website/organization/philosophy to promote) — which is quite rare, actually, if you’re interviewed about something it’s because you care on one level or another — then sure, you have nothing to gain or lose so you might as well go with the flow and answer to the best of your ability.

  • Arron August 18, 2010, 9:23 am

    This site has motivated me and my partner to shed our consumerist lives and strive for something a little easier, a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable. It’s easier to get off the earn/spend treadmill when there are people such as yourself and your husband to inspire us and show that yes, it can be done. Thanks, and great job.

  • Christina August 18, 2010, 9:31 am

    Congratulations on getting on the Today Show! I know what you mean though, sometimes your tiny life ends up getting a little bit bigger when many people become interested in it.

  • Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things August 18, 2010, 9:55 am

    Congrats on all the attention Tammy! You’ve been everywhere lately & you definitely deserve it. Keep it up!

    • Tammy August 18, 2010, 5:56 pm

      Thanks Joel! 🙂 I appreciate the kind words.

  • Brian August 18, 2010, 2:40 pm

    I found your website today while reading my local newspaper here in Tampa. I enjoyed the premise of the story – Simplify Your Life – and wanted to explore your website. I’m really looking forward to reading your Smalltopia when it’s available. I’ve been sharing your website with co-workers all afternoon.

    • Tammy August 18, 2010, 5:43 pm

      @Brain – thank you so much for reading and sharing. I appreciate it! 🙂

  • sharon stanley August 18, 2010, 2:56 pm

    this was a very interesting post…i’m not sure i will ever have use of it for media concerns, but as i read it, i was thinking how useful it could be in everyday life….interviews for jobs, answering questions you might not really want to answer, dealing with committees, etc….very good advice!

    • Tammy August 18, 2010, 5:41 pm

      @Sharon – that’s such a good point. Even if you never talk with “the media” you can use a lot of the tips above in general life situations. Thanks for reading Sharon! 🙂 I appreciate your support.

  • carma August 18, 2010, 4:53 pm

    If I ever wind up in this situation, I’ll be saying “yes” to everything 😀 because the odds of it happening are nil.

    Congratulations 🙂

    • Tammy August 18, 2010, 5:39 pm

      Ahhh thanks Carma. I’ve been saying yes to most requests. But I’m also trying to be mindful of my time. It’s easy to get caught up in a whirl wind and neglect work. 🙂

      Thanks for reading! I really appreciate it. 🙂

  • alwaysLovely August 18, 2010, 6:34 pm

    Tammy, thanks for the tips.
    Straight forward and easy to follow.
    Once again congrats on your achievements!

  • Rachel August 18, 2010, 7:56 pm

    I have been reading your blog for months. My jaw just dropped when I saw you on HLN! Congrats and thanks for the inspiration.

  • Gin August 19, 2010, 4:16 am

    Great advice! Working for a youth-serving nonprofit, I’ve had to give lots of interviews over the years. My favorites are for radio, because you can always have a bulleted list with you, and no one sees (my) funny facial expressions!

    When coaching the youth who work with us, we always tell them to have one key point you want to get across as part of the larger conversation. It’s true the reporter will have their own angle, but they are just learning about the issue or organization. It’s our job to represent ourselves clearly.

    • Tammy August 19, 2010, 5:50 am

      @Gin – great points! And keep up your amazing work. It sounds like you are doing some really cool stuff in your community. 🙂

  • Naomi August 19, 2010, 7:19 am

    These are great tips overall (I especially like the ones about being natural and avoiding jargon). I think you and Logan have done a great job of getting your message across, but two of the big reasons why are that you’re genuine and you have the experience to back up what you say. I’ve been a journalist for more than a decade, so my BS detector is pretty well-tuned. When someone is trying to avoid answering a question during an interview, or when someone isn’t being sincere, you can tell.

    • Logan August 19, 2010, 10:11 am

      Hi Naomi,

      Thank for your insight Naomi. We appreciate your professional perspective! 🙂 Your observation of us is congruent with a freelance-reporter for a Taiwan news agency. She mentioned that she has seen many stories similar to ours but she thought ours was the most interesting because we were sincere, genuine and had nothing to hide. Although its a bit weird to have national and international viewers looking at our apartment, closets, and kitchen cabinets I think it helps keep the “BS detector” from alarming. 😉 I hope my response to a question on the Joy Behar Show regarding the speculation on our simple living philosophy in the future didn’t stray too far into BS territory. 😉

  • heath cole August 19, 2010, 10:06 am

    hi tammy…it was so funny…i just happened to turn on my TV last night & there you were w/ logan on the joy behar show…i was like “holy sh*t!…it’s the rowdy kitten girl!”…hehehe…what a great interview…thanks to you & logan for getting the word out there & making people *think*!…:D heath cole

  • Tyler Tervooren August 19, 2010, 4:10 pm

    Oh great, now you tell me! 😉

  • Caz from Aus August 20, 2010, 5:33 am

    I have one small point to add… it is ok to take a few seconds (or more) to frame your answer in your mind. I sometimes get caught up and blurt out an answer I wish I had just taken a second or two more to compose. Taking a breath and a moment can be valuable (at least for me 🙂

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