Making A Difference
Communications Tool Kit
The Role of the Spokesperson
The goal of learning how to be a good spokesperson is to help you develop key message objectives and effectively work with the media to take those messages to the public. The following are guidelines, tips and tactics to help you achieve that goal.
When you are asked to participate in an interview, ask about the audience or reader who is likely to see, hear or read the piece. Let the reporter or producer know you are interested in providing information to that particular audience. Most will be grateful that you care.
The types of questions, the way they are asked and the tone in which they are asked are all based on attitudes. Some reporters and interviewers aggressively pursue their subjects; many more are low-key and simply want to explore a topic. For these reasons, you must do your homework before the interview.
To learn the editorial position of a publication or program and the way reporters have treated recent issues, scan back copies of the publications or monitor several broadcasts of the program. Computer databases and library reference sections are especially helpful to find back issues and articles published in newspapers or magazines.
Monitor radio and television shows before an appearance. Pay special attention to the host's approach to the guests, the tone, the style of questioning and attitudes toward issues. If the format is a debate or panel discussion, study the way the moderator handles varying points of view or moves the conversation from one panelist to another.
Having specific objectives in mind allows you to guide the interview. For example, a host or reporter may receive the general assignment: "interview a medical librarian about good Web sites." Given free rein, his interview might skip from point to point and miss the issues that you think are most important.
Keeping your objectives in mind will help you to lead the interviewer to the specific target area. Once firmly guided into that area, the host or reporter will typically confine his questions to your topic.
You should have only one or twonever more than threespecific message objectives for an interview. These are the key points, the things you want your audience to remember if nothing else is remembered from your interview.
During the interview, always keep your message points in mind and seek opportunities to return to them whenever possible. Repeating your important points will make them stand out among all that is said during an interview. Use phrases such as, "I think it is very important to remember..." or "Let me go back to an important point I mentioned earlier..." or "Let me emphasize one thing...." By stressing the importance of your message points, it becomes more memorable for the reporter and the audience.
In developing your message points, remember that overall themes should be conveyed to your audience in your actions and in everything you say:
However, you will occasionally run into interviewers who fall into other categories. A host may be hostile no matter what you say or do. A reporter may know nothing about you or your topic and may ask ignorant questions. All can be dealt with once you identify the type of interviewer they are:
Machine Gun Interviewer
BEWARE: This type of interviewer is more common than you may think. Especially in smaller communities, but in large ones too, there are many interviewers who try to "wing it." Your job is to identify that style, grasp control of the interview and lead the interviewer through it. In fact, you have the capability of making these types of interviewers look very good in front of their audience, and you have an open road for achieving your communications objectives.
Despite these occasional, difficult types, most interviewers are competent and helpful and want you to present yourself and your information well. By being prepared for the worst, you will usually be pleasantly surprised.
Helping the Public Take the Next Step
Health care topics in particular evoke strong response from the public. You can help by providing information that supports your point of view. Work with the producer, program host or reporter to make this information available.
Consumer Information Available
When you are being interviewed, let the producer, host or reporter known early on, ideally before an interview even begins, that there is a phone number, address and Web site that can be given. They may include the phone number, address or Web site during the broadcast, or provide the information to switchboard operators who answer audience inquiries. The print reporter is likely to include the number, address or Web site in the story.
Also discuss the availability of the consumer brochure with the producer or host of a radio or television show. Bring copies of brochures with you. The TV host may want to hold up the brochure during your interview; radio personalities often read from this type of material during a discussion and refer to its availability.
Brochures should be brought to print interviews as well—and left behind. They provide good background information for the reporter and are often used as artwork to illustrate a story. In all cases, the brochures are reminders that consumer education information is available.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 May 22