Talking To The Press
What to say and not say in an interview.
You're sitting in your office at the local water district just about to begin poring over a mound of papers on a new triple-osmosis filtration system when the phone rings. You pick it up, and on the other end of the line is the friendly voice of a local reporter who wants your comments for a story she's working on for the next day's edition.
Of course, you could go the easy route and immediately transfer the call to your organization's high-paid director of public affairs. Or you can apply the confidence and principles you've learned in Toastmasters. Here's what to do:
Find out what the reporter's deadline is for the story and jot it down. Tell the reporter that you'll have to get clearance to speak to the press, but that it shouldn't be a problem. You will just need to know what questions she will ask you. (When she tells you, write them down.) Finally, tell the reporter you will get back to her within an hour and get a callback number.
Hang up the phone, take a deep breath and then spend a few minutes putting together a brilliant and highly quotable answer for each question. (Hint: Think Table Topics.) Keep each answer short - a few sentences - and to the point. Next, call your organization's PR person and say something like, "Reporter Jill Smith of the Eagle Democrat News-Free Tribune has called me on (insert issue here). Here's what I plan to tell her. (State your answers.) Is that OK?"
Nine times out of 10, the PR person, since you've done his work for him, will say yes. But whether you are automatically cleared to speak to the press or must seek clearance, there are a few basic things you should remember in all of your dealings with the media.
OK, you've delivered your riveting, truthful answers to every question the reporter can muster. Here are three tips for ending the interview:
Everyone knows that the speaking skills learned at 16 Toastmasters can get you through some pretty tricky situations - job interviews, group presentations and social toasts to name a few. They may even get you through a live media interview when you least expect it.
Let me set stage. It was the Friday morning November 29, 2001, when the world learned of George Harrison's death. Like many Beatles fans. I immediately flashed back to all those wonderful songs and how they had influenced my life at various moments I'd always liked George, the quiet one. We all know he was the lead guitarist and wrote some of their biggest hits. But did you know that the Beatles' early practice sessions were held at George's house? His mom was the only one who'd tolerate their noisy racket!
The question was, how to pay my last respects to George? Living in New York City, I immediately thought of Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Getting there around 7:45 a.m., I noticed few people, nothing like the crowds to come. There were, however, lots of TV crews, Before long a reporter walked over, notepad in hand, ''Do you come here often?' he asked. "No, l made a special trip to say goodbye to George," I replied 'Hold on a minute; he said and walked over to his TV crew. They asked if I'd do a live interview. Of course, I said OK. He brought me over to the camera crew and introduced me to Virginia Cha of CNBC. After a few minutes of setting up, we were rolling - live! Virginia asked how I fed about George Harrison and his music. How about his role as a Beatle? Did knowing about his heath problems help me to better deal with his death? Probably six to eight questions in all, kind of a sequential Table Topics
At first I was pretty nervous - I was talking with Virginia but there was a big camera about five feet away. By the second question, a funny thing happened - my Toastmasters training kicked in. Pretty soon I was smiling, thinking about vocal variety, gestures enthusiasm all that good stuff. After a few minutes, we were finished. Virginia and I thanked each other and I was off to work, wondering how I'd come across and whether I'd make the final cut that day
I didn't have to wait long. A few hours later, a friend in Maine called. She was watching me on CNBC. She said I came across poised, articulate, believable - she said they ran almost the entire interview That night my parents and other friends called; they couldn't believe I looked so relaxed and confident.
All those speeches and Table Topics at Toastmasters paid off. I survived the cut and enjoyed my five minutes of fame. So remember: The skills you team at Toastmasters car, help you in many ways - professionally, socially and even during the occasional television interview.