News reporters often call on Extension staff for their subject matter expertise. These suggestions will help you keep the message simple and reduce the chance of being misquoted.
- When a reporter contacts you, don't feel pressured to respond immediately. Give yourself time to prepare by setting a follow-up call. In preparation, ask them:
- When is your deadline?
- What types of questions on what topic will you be asking?
- What time can I call you back for the interview?
- Prepare - pick two or three key points and have them on paper in front of you so you can respond succinctly and stay on target. If you get flustered, circle the conversation back to your written key points until you can gather your thoughts. Keep sentences short. Use common words, not acronyms or Extension jargon. Assume the viewers or readers are beginners. You can work your way up to more complicated topics if you've given them a good, introductory foundation.
- If you know the reporter, ask them, in advance, to send you a list of the questions so you can organize your responses to cover your key points.
- If the topic relates to an upcoming program, be sure to have the registration information available as an easy-to-remember short, custom URL.
- After the interview, provide the reporter with additional resources they can use to build the rest of their story. Give them solid, research-based information from University of Illinois or refer them to additional experts on the topic. Trust me; they'll appreciate the help on short deadlines.
- The South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations recommends reading the newspaper or listening to local radio before the interview to be aware of current events. In addition, if the reporter has a regular program, review previous interviews they've conducted so you're familiar with their style and format of the show.
- Be yourself, and make sure it's the best version of yourself. Relaxed and conversational is always good, but remember, you're representing University of Illinois, so focus on your subject matter expertise and save the joke-telling for your friends and family.
- Remember, you're always "on-the-record" even in your casual conversation prior to the official interview, so choose your words and actions carefully.
- If you don't know the answer (like that would ever happen), don't guess. Say, "I don't know, and I'll follow up with more information later."
- This is not the time for your personal opinion. Stick with information you know to be research-based and endorsed by University of Illinois and Extension.
- If you're asked to speak on a potentially contentious topic, don’t say “no comment.” Refer them to public affairs and then notify Extension Communication Director Bridget Lee-Calfas or Public Affairs.
If your interview includes video
- Keep your eyes on the reporter, not on the camera. Pretend it's a simple conversation you're having across the table. Assume the camera is always on until the host gives you the all clear. Even then, be professional.
- It's always best to wear Extension-branded clothing, when possible. Avoid clothing that's flashy or white and clothing that has stripes or checks. Avoid distracting jewelry that might dangle and flash from the camera lights.
What about controversy?
If you're asked to speak on a potentially contentious topic, such as funding, COVID-19 restrictions, office relocations, or local issues, your first call should be to Extension Communication Director Samantha Koon. She can assist you with talking points to keep the interview focused. If the topic involves county boards or elected officials, include Steve Wald, Extension assistant director of government relations, in your preparation, as well.
Reference: How to Respond to Questions from the Media, Preparing For and Giving Great Interviews, South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organization, as part of the Colorado Nonprofit Association's P&P Communications Toolkit.