Lights, camera, action!
You get a call from your hospital’s public relations office asking you to speak to the local news. Even though this isn’t your first time, your heart is pounding, with a mix of nerves and excitement. You start doubting whether you have anything valuable to say about the topic, even though, yes – you went through many years of medical school and residency before this moment. You are also worried about how to avoid looking foolish or unprofessional on-air. Or worse, how to avoid having your words taken out of context.
No? OK, then maybe that’s just me. There are still some key tips and tricks you should know to optimize your performance.
Not enough physicians are getting in front of the camera to talk about the most serious medical issues. And in my experience on both sides — as a reporter-editor-producer and a physician-expert — I saw that it was often because physicians and other health professionals are not taught how to speak to the lay public effectively. As a result, someone less knowledgeable but more entertaining may end up in the spotlight.
So, here’s my list of 8 things to know before you’re interviewed by the news media — and to increase your chances of getting called back again and again.
Speak in plain language. The average reader and viewer has a sixth-grade vocabulary (or less). Break everything down. Avoid medical jargon and abbreviations. Use colorful analogies when you can.
Answer in short but complete sentences. The audience usually won’t hear the reporter’s questions in the final product. Phrase your answers in complete sentences.
(Example – Q: “Why is this treatment important?” A: “This treatment is important because…”)
Anything you say is on the record. Don’t bad mouth anyone unless you mean to. Anything you say can be included in the article and attributed to YOU. If you want to give information to help the reporter, but not be quoted, clearly state that you want to offer information “for background information only.”
Hold back your crutch words. Practice in front of the mirror before your interview. Even better, record yourself. If you notice that you say “Um,” “Like,” or other filler words, try again without them. Sometimes, simply pausing is better than using distracting crutch words.
Look the part (if on-air). Avoid prints and big jewelry. Take selfies of yourself in different colors to find which colors look the best with your skin tone.
Relax, but be lively. Don’t speak too fast. But, don’t be too monotone, either. Take a deep breath and find a comfortable pace, while adding life to your voice. It’s OK to infuse emotion into your responses.
Anticipate the hardest questions you could be asked. Be prepared with answers for the most difficult or uncomfortable questions you could be asked on the topic.
Bring it back to your key message. Prepare 2 to 3 main talking points to drive home. No matter what questions you are asked, try to redirect your answers back to those key points before the interview ends.
Tyeese L. Gaines is an emergency physician and branding and media coach.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com