How to Prepare for an Interview, and What to Do During an Interview

How To Sound Like A Professional Spokesperson

Protester at circus
A protester holds a sign about circus animals. Getty Images

This article was updated and re-written in part by Michelle A. Rivera, About.Com Animal Rights Expert


Let's get your point across. We spoke to Terri Parker a veteran Investigative Reporter for the ABC news affiliate WPBF 25 NEWS and here’s what she had to say about talking to reporters:

        “Reporters are looking for two main things at a scene. You need to be able to describe why you are there and what you are doing in a short, succinct and fully formed sentence or two – leaving out any jargon.

For example, “We’re walking around the courthouse holding these miniature horses to protest the sentence the judge handed down to Jane Smiley. We think it’s outrageous that she can’t keep her horses after all she’s done for our community.”

        And secondly, you need to explain why people – the viewers – should care. Try to explain the emotion of the situation. “For 30 years, Jane has rescued horses that otherwise would have been abused and bankrupted herself doing so. The person bringing this lawsuit is despicable, we’re outraged and we’re going to take this to the Supreme Court if we don’t get justice.”

Prior to the interview:

Have four or five "Press Kits" ready. You will keep one and give one to each network representative who shows up for your protest or press conference.

The following is instruction on how to make a press kit:

Purchase two-sided pocket folders. On the right side, there should be slits so a business card can be inserted.

Insert your card, or a card with the contact information for your organization, into the slits. Insert a copy of your press release in the left pocket. This is the only document that goes in the left pocket.

In the right pocket, insert Fact Sheets printed on 20 pound paperweight, bright, white paper.

The Fact Sheets can come directly off of your organization's website, or that of a like-minded organization. For example, if you are representing a small humane society, you may look to Peta or the HSUS for Fact Sheets on your particular issue. These are never copyrighted and available for use by anyone. If you feel the Peta name or logo may be received negatively, you may cover it up when making copies. Behind the Fact Sheets, insert two-three sheets of paper containing relevant research on the subject. This may include studies or polls released by reputable non-biased agencies, preferably with websites with a URL ending in .edu or .gov. Finally, if there is any relevant legislative issues or bills being introduced that will affect your issue, print out and provide those as well. Reporters will be much more open to airing or printing stories they don't have to research entirely on their own. You've done that for them. 

How to Prepare for an Interview

When the media shows up to your event or invites you to the studio for an interview, follow these tips so you can be prepared. Anticipate common questions, such as:

  • ·       What is your position within the group? If you are a volunteer, say so. If you are an employee or board member, state that as well.
  • ·        What are you protesting today? Is it a business (pet store), a governmental entity or politician? Be sure to know exactly who or what you are protesting. Give full names.
  • ·       Why is it important for the public to be aware of this issue? State how it affects them directly. For example: tax dollars are being used to subsidize this laboratory that conducts vivisection on chimpanzees
  • ·        What is a better solution? Always have an answer to a problem. Never present a problem without presenting one or more solutions to consider.
  • ·      Don't we need to use animals sometimes? Reply that some states, companies, countries, etc. are conducting the same activities without animals.
  • ·       What can the viewers at home do about this? Give precise answers such as “they can stop buying puppies from this pet store” or “they can call their councilman to ask for support of this issue.”
  • ·       What do you say to people who say (insert opponent's argument?) Know all of your opponent’s arguments and how to counter them.

Make sure you can answer these common questions with just one or two sentences. Unless your interview is being broadcast live, it will probably be edited down to one or two sound bites, or 20 seconds of talk, so make them count. You can practice your interviewing skills by having someone ask you questions about the protest, the issue, or your group.

What to Do During an Interview

Start by thanking the reporter for covering the issue. Don’t be profuse. Just a “thanks for coming” is better than over-enthusiasm for the media presence. Don’t waste a minute of yours or their time.

If you are being interviewed by a television crew, remember to look at the interviewer and not the camera.

Do not be emotional. Be matter-of-fact. Don’t come off as over-sensitive or hysterical. If you feel you cannot stay calm and businesslike, ask someone else to take the interview.

What if you are asked a question for which you have no answer?

·         If the interview is being broadcast live, say that you don’t know the answer, and then redirect the conversation toward a topic that you do know. For example, “I don’t know the exact number of elephants in this circus, but I can tell you that every single of one of them is confined for hours every day, and forcing them to perform is cruel and unnecessary.”
·         If the interview is not being broadcast live, offer to get back to the reporter later with an answer.

Reporters work on very tight deadlines, so get the information and follow up as soon as possible, preferably within a couple of hours. At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer again. If you feel the interviewer has not asked the right questions and the interview appears to be ending soon, be proactive and speak up! Quickly add, "I'd just like to conclude by saying . . ."

The most important take-away, according to Terri Parker, is to be on point, conversational, and passionate. You can explain all of the background off camera. Go get 'em!