At some point in your career a reporter may tap you for an interview. The August issue of Principal Investigator Advisor offers these tips to its readership of principal investigators in all fields of science, but they are applicable to laypeople, as well.

  1. Know who is calling and why. Get the reporter’s name and media outlet. Find out why the reporter asked you for an interview, and try to get a sense of his or her focus or angle. If you feel you aren’t the best person to address the subject, say so.

  2. Buy time to prepare. Confirm the reporter’s deadline. Set a time to speak within that timeframe to allow you to gather your thoughts. Resist the temptation to wing it.

  3. Know the audience. With the reporter’s outlet, angle and audience in mind, consider both your message and the best way to convey it to that particular audience.

  4. Know your message and stay on it. Don’t leave yourself open to misinterpretation. Create a headline in advance and make it the lead point. Think of different ways to communicate that point, and reinforce it in every response.

  5. Avoid jargon and technical terms. You’re not talking to your peers, so overuse of specialized terms will obscure your message and lose the audience. If a term is absolutely essential, use it and then define it in layman’s terms.

  6. Respect the reporter. Don’t be condescending or argumentative. If a reporter is misinformed, politely correct him or her. And, be sure to get the reporter’s name right in on-air interviews.

  7. Avoid “no comment.” It makes you look like you’re trying to hide something. If you can’t answer, explain why.

  8. Don’t speculate; speculative answers may come back to haunt you. If you can’t answer a question, promise to get back to the reporter with info. Hypothetical questions are notorious minefields, so don’t be enticed to respond to what-if scenarios.

  9. “Off the record” is a myth. Always be aware when microphones, cameras or tape recorders are present.

  10. Appearance matters. Dress simply and conservatively. Sit up straight and be mindful of your body language.
    -- Principal Investigator Advisor