It’s hilarious when Newhart does it. Not so funny if it happens to you. Executives who want exposure on television but have not had much experience in front of the camera should first consider landing a radio interview or two to hone their voices and practice answering questions effectively live on the air. Radio should be part of your public relations activities.
There are two reasons for this. First, of course, radio is great exposure. Nothing has diminished the impact of radio as a means of delivering messages. Particularly in drive time (radiospeak for “traffic jams”), you have a captive audience.
Give them a reason to listen, and they’ll stick with you. Also, radio is an intimate medium that allows you to speak directly to the listener — and paint a picture in his or her imagination about your issue, product, or service — with little distraction from visual images.
Second, it is a great way to build your media chops doing live, on-air interviews without the distractions of the television studio. These include lights, makeup, the stare of the camera, your posture and clothing, floor-manager signals, and the need to appear rested and physically engaged — even if it is 8 p.m. after a 12-hour workday.
Appearance counts for too much on television if you’re not prepared. The way your clothing “reads” on camera, the size of the bags under your eyes, razor stubble, body language, and the distractions of jewelry are a few pitfalls. And if you’re like me, with a great face for radio, you’ll especially welcome the opportunity to do an interview in shirtsleeves, late in the afternoon, and not worry that you look like Richard Nixon at the first televised presidential debate.
You should consider a few basic things before the interview:
- Listen to the interviewer’s program a few times before it’s your day in the studio. Know the host’s style — and whether it is confrontational or supportive.
- Call the interviewer to find out generally what kinds of questions you’ll get.
- Nail down your messages. Be prepared with three “must-say” messages, the things you will convey during the interview under any circumstances. Practice “bridging” to those messages.
- Arrive a few minutes early so you are not running into the studio huffing and puffing. Get comfortable in the green room and practice your messages.
- Relax. It will show in your voice during the interview.
- Radio provides a number of natural advantages for the interviewee. One of the most important is the freedom to look at detailed notes while on the air, something that would be a no-no on TV. Nothing takes the place of preparation — knowing exactly what you want to say and having your key messages nailed down. But having notes in front of you — as long as you don’t read them verbatim — ensures that you will not forget any of your key points.
- Be interesting. Explain why what you have to say is of consequence to the listener. Use figures sparingly. Save the jargon and the reams of data for your next staff meeting.
- Remember that the silence belongs to the interviewer, who will do whatever it takes to avoid “dead air.” Listen carefully to the question, answer it succinctly, and then shut up. Don’t get trapped embellishing your answer unnecessarily — or worse, boring the listeners by being windy — just because the interviewer is silent for a few beats. This is much harder to do on television. When the interviewer is not talking, the camera is on you, and unless you’re good at this stuff, you end up shifting around. Very awkward. Watch what anchors do before they go to commercial — they just look straight into the camera and wait! Do the same.
- If your schedule is tight, suggest a telephone interview. You can make a phone call from just about any quiet spot — your home, office, or hotel room on the road. Forget using the cell phone, though. Most radio programs will not let you use them because of the invariably poor reception.
Robert Deigh is principal of RDC Communication/PR and the author of How Come No One Knows About Us? (WBusiness Books, May 2008), the ultimate PR guide for any organization. To get a full chapter by email (called “Use These 16 Sure-Fire Ways to Come Up With Story Ideas That Will Attract Press”) from his upcoming book, to inquire about his availability for speeches or workshops, or to subscribe to his popular monthly online newsletter, PR Quick Tips, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or
703-503-9321. His website is www.rdccommunication.com.