When we discuss radio interviews, we tell media training delegates to remember listeners are usually doing something else, so to capture their attention, you should be particularly expressive, in both language & delivery.
Here, our trainer Sarah Deech, shares her insiders guide to radio interviews.
So, you’ve been booked for a radio interview. You’ve researched the programme, the presenter, and you know what you want to say – you hope.
What now? We have 10 top tips for radio interviews.
Have you been offered the choice of going into the studio, or doing the interview from home (eg over Zoom, or by phone)?
If you’re given the option and you have the time, it’s always best to go into the studio in person. There’s nothing quite like being able to eyeball the presenter to get a more dynamic and natural conversation. The presenter can read your body language and your facial expressions – and vice versa – and that makes a more engaging interview experience for both of you. Plus of course, there isn’t the danger that your Wifi will drop mid-interview – it’s stressful enough for you without having worry about the sound quality on your line, or your Zoom crashing half way through.
Will your interview be live, or pre-recorded, i.e. to be played out at a later time (and probably edited)? Make sure you ask this question, if they haven’t already told you.
If you’re given the choice – LIVE is always best. It may sound scarier, but the simple fact is that if you are live, everything you want to say will go out on air. If you do a pre-recorded interview, the producers may well edit your interview down to a short clip, and it might not be the main thing you wanted to say. You have no control over it.
How long will you have to talk for?
A typical news programme interview is around 3 minutes. Of that, 30 seconds might be the journalist asking questions – so it really isn’t very long.
Maybe you are doing a long pre-recorded interview that will be edited down, so you might be talking to a journalist for 10 minutes or longer. Or perhaps they just want a short soundbite for a news bulletin. Make sure you find out so you’re well prepared.
If you’re going into a studio, don’t rush. If you do, you’ll spend the first 5 minutes breathless and unable to string a sentence together. Take the lift, not the stairs – and certainly don’t run up any stairs.
Arrive early, sit down and have a drink of water. The more time you have to relax and gather your thoughts beforehand, the better. Another advantage to arriving in good time is that you will be able to listen to the items played just before you’re introduced. They might play a pre-recorded report (a “package”) to outline the story, or maybe they’ll be interviewing someone else with an opposing viewpoint. These could be critical things to listen to – make sure you do.
Turn your mobile phone off!
If you want to take notes in with you, as many people do – that is absolutely fine. It’s best not to bring long pages of notes with full sentences, as you’ll end up trying to read them out which will sound unnatural. Your aim to sound authentic and human – and if you read prepared text, you just won’t.
The best option is usually postcards with bullet points (not paper – it rustles, or flutters off tables too easily), so you have something to glance at if you feel yourself drying up.
Keep in mind that radio news programmes have a lot of “junctions” to hit: the news, the weather, the sport, the travel. They’re constantly time pressured, so your interview will be scheduled between these and is unlikely to be extended, however good you are.
That means: don’t save the best until last, or wait to be asked a specific question. It’s important you try and get your key messages in early on.
Always bear in mind as well that your interview might suddenly terminate after two questions if a there is breaking news and you’ll be kicking yourself if you didn’t get to say the thing you really wanted to say.
Many radio studios now have webcams which will record all their studio-based output – and it may be streaming live online, eg on YouTube. So it’s probably best not to show up for radio interviews in pyjamas.
The studio & the gallery
As soon as you walk in to the studio, remember that everything you say might be heard. A typical radio studio will have a “gallery’ adjacent to it, separated by thick, sound-proof glass. In the gallery, the programme producer, editor, studio manager, and maybe others will sit there. They will communicate continually with the presenter through microphones, and he/she will listen to them through their headphones. So if you need to make a last minute phone call to a colleague, make sure you do it before you walk in to the studio.
Take a deep breath or three, think calming thoughts, or do some relaxation stretches. The more relaxed you are, the more natural – and therefore more authentic – you will sound in your interview.