Resources for Faculty

Tips for Difficult Interviews

Occa­sion­al­ly the media may call with dif­fi­cult or neg­a­tive ques­tions relat­ed to your work. Resist the urge to turn off the ringer, and instead tell the sto­ry you want to tell. If the sto­ry has broad­er impli­ca­tions for the uni­ver­si­ty or if you’re unsure about tak­ing the inter­view, con­tact Althea Black­burn-Evans, direc­tor of media rela­tions, for advice.

  • Return media calls prompt­ly with the under­stand­ing that you are nev­er required to do an inter­view on the spot. If you need think­ing time, set the inter­view for a mutu­al­ly agree­able time.
  • Ask ANY ques­tions you wish before agree­ing to an inter­view, such as: dead­lines, angle, oth­er sources.
  • In advance, know the 2–3 three points you wish to make. Test them out loud to hone your mes­sage.
  • There’s no such thing as off the record.
  • Nev­er say “no com­ment”. Take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to bridge to your key mes­sages.
  • Media are nei­ther your friends nor your ene­mies – they are look­ing for a sto­ry that will be com­pelling to read­ers.
  • In advance, have your facts and fig­ures in order and men­tal­ly test your­self with dif­fi­cult ques­tions.
  • Use every­day words that the layper­son will under­stand.
  • Expect that your full response may not be used, espe­cial­ly if your answers are long. Stick to the main points and keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble.
  • “Dead air” won’t kill you – don’t ram­ble to fill it. Make your key points and let the inter­view­er wor­ry about the rest.
  • Remem­ber: this isn’t Jeop­ardy. When faced with dif­fi­cult ques­tions, avoid the temp­ta­tion to blurt out an answer. Think crit­i­cal­ly about your response, and bridge to your main points.
  • In respond­ing to a neg­a­tive ques­tion, don’t repeat the neg­a­tive ques­tion. Answer with a pos­i­tive. “Why has your research failed to …?” “My research has expand­ed the under­stand­ing of…”
  • It’s not over ‘til it’s over (when the reporter has hung up or walked out the door). Until then, you’re on the record.
  • Brain­storm like­ly ques­tions as well as worst-case-sce­nario ques­tions. If you spend some time think­ing about it, you should be able to antic­i­pate most of the ques­tions.