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.