How to survive a media interview – how to handle yourself

If you have read the previous two articles in this series – on why do media interviews in the first place and how to familiarize yourself with the genre – you should be about ready to get in there and go on air! Here are some tips on how to handle yourself during the interview itself, and how to recognize and understand the techniques the interviewer is likely to use.

How to survive a media interview - how to handle yourself

Concentrate as hard as you can on the interviewer and what s/he is asking you.

One very basic tip is to listen carefully to the questions. This sounds un peu obvious, I know, but when you’re a bit nervous in your unfamiliar surroundings either trying to see the (radio) interviewer beyond the blog blob of a microphone in front of your face or trying to focus on the interviewer when there are ten people lurking around behind her/him, you can get distracted.

Concentrate as hard as you can on the interviewer and what s/he is asking  you. Not only will this help you to answer effectively but it will stop your attention being drawn away to other things. Even if it’s radio, look at the interviewer when listening to the questions and speaking the answers. If they know their job they will encourage you while you’re talking with smiles and nods.

Don’t be perturbed if they don’t actually say  anything while you’re talking. This purely is because two voices talking across each comes across as messy on the soundtrack. In normal conversation we can filter out people saying “yes,” or “un-huh,” “really?” etc. while another person is talking because our ears are a lot more sophisticated than even the fanciest of sound equipment. On radio or TV, however, it just sounds scrappy and distracting.

Put some zing into your voice

With radio which doesn’t offer the advantage of letting people see your body language, and even with TV when they can, you will soon lose their attention if you drone on in a monotone. Practice putting some vocal “lift” in your voice to stress key points. Use short pauses to create a sense of anticipation.

Keep your tone mellow by breathing and speaking from deep in your abdomen … doing a little yoga or meditation type of breathing exercise is a very useful way to prepare. If you have a loud, explosive laugh, damp it down if you want to laugh during your interview. Not only will it come across through the equipment like the braying of a donkey, but also you’ll blow the sound technicians’ eardrums into the stratosphere.

Avoid clichés and above all avoid using your industry’s or pursuit’s jargon. Remember that even if a TV or radio program is relatively specialized, audiences still are less likely to be as technically literate as your own people are. If you do use an acronym, set of initials or a jargon term, be sure to explain it.

The TV camera doesn’t lie? Well, a bit…

This is another advantage of doing a media training course, as I have suggested in the first article of this series: the first time you see yourself in action on camera I’d be very surprised if you didn’t get the shock of your life. Even the most modern and sophisticated TV camera is a cruel, harsh, unfeeling SOB and will play havoc with your wrinkles, your acne scars, your slightly crooked tooth, your double chin, your hand gestures and just about every other genetic niggle your parents handed down to you.

Everything on that camera lens gets exaggerated beyond belief. Fortunately there are things you can do to minimize the effect.

As for hand gestures and body language … many theater actors transferring to TV have had to learn how to shrink their grand body language aimed at the back row of the Gods, so it now aims for a silly little piece of glass in a box the size of an orange crate. In your case you don’t have to go to quite such extremes but be sure to sit as still and as comfortably as possible, look at your interviewer and no matter how hostile you might feel towards her/him, remain pleasant. Well, at least pleasant-looking.

Keep you hands still but relaxed, and keep your head as still as you can without being as rigid as an automaton while you’re speaking. Slight movements of your head and hands are OK now and again, but several in quick succession can make you look like you’re bobbing for apples. If you are naturally a highly animated speaker you will just have to metaphorically nail one of your feet to the floor for the duration.

What about the right clothes for your TV interview?

Don’t forget that your look – which includes your clothes – can speak volumes about you and your organization. Dress according to how you want viewers to perceive you. However there are a few practical issues which can affect what you wear, too.

TV stations can be very hot under those powerful lights. Make sure you use a strong antiperspirant, and avoid thin, light-colored clothes that will show sweat or synthetic materials that are not “breathable.”

Also avoid vivid patterns and stripes, plus the colors red and white, as even with the sophisticated equipment in use currently these all can shout a bit through the camera.

How to survive a media interview - how to handle yourself

Even a skirt that looks modest when you’re standing up can look too short when you’re sitting down in front of a cruel TV camera.

In a business or other relatively formal context, it’s probably best for women to avoid wearing clothes that are particularly revealing like low décolletages and short skirts – unless you will be standing up for the whole interview, although even then a very low neckline might look a bit un-business-like depending on the camera angles.

More bits to remember during the media interview

Remember that any kind of studio microphone, on radio or television, is very sensitive and can pick up the buzzing of a fly three metres away. Don’t shuffle your feet, tap the furniture with you fingers, or wriggle around in your chair.

If you’re wearing a heavy watch or jangling bracelet, take them off so they don’t make a noise when you move your hands.

If you’re working from your own notes (please don’t write yourself a script!) it’s a good idea to put each piece of paper in a clear plastic sleeve-type wallet, so when you move the papers around there isn’t a scratchy noise.

If you’re reading your notes on a tablet or laptop, be sure to ask the producer beforehand if it’s OK to use that while you’re on air. With modern kit being so user friendly your IPad isn’t likely to blow up the entire electronic network of ABC, but it’s still polite to ask…

And lastly…

Watch the booze or prescription drugs. Those of us in the business who advise conference speakers and media interviewees sympathize with people who still believe in that old adage about having a couple of belts of liquor to relax and loosen the tongue, but that’s nonsense.

Even one drink before you do a TV or radio interview doesn’t loosen the tongue: it loosens the brain. The most awful thing about this popuolar misconception is that once people have had a couple of snifters or pills, they think  they’re performing better; but the reality is, they aren’t.

Believe in the fact that a bit of stage fright, first night nerves or whatever professional performers call it is a good  thing, because it crispens you up nice and sharply to perform at your very best. Alcohol or sensation-suppressant drugs will merely reduce your sparkle and clarity, so avoid them, OK?

Any more tips from people who have been there and done interviews like this? Please share your advice too!

Check out all the articles in this series about how to handle media interviews…

How to survive a media interview – watch out for over-confidence

How to survive a media interview – down the line, radio

How to survive a media interview – how to handle yourself

How to survive a media interview – familiarize yourself

How to survive a media interview – why do it in the first place?

How to survive a media interview – down the line, TV



photo credit: via photopin cc
photo credit: Paula Satijn via photopin cc




  1. Those are really useful tips, Suze – thanks. I can relate to the head movement thing, and I generally have to remind myself to still still! I’ve been pleasantly surprised though at how much I enjoy interviews. Good tip about putting notes in a plastic wallet.

    • Glad you found the tips helpful Angela! This series of articles is getting a lot of interest, I think because more and more people in business are being interviewed by the media – especially now with so much happening with internet-based radio, webinars, etc.


  1. […] i.e. why to do media interviews in the first place, how to familiarize yourself with the genre, and how to handle yourself in a live studio […]