5 tips for preparing a first-time interviewee

Whether it’s driving a car, skiing on the slopes, or giving a presentation in front of your colleagues, being nervous to try something new is a part of being human. For faculty, staff, and student experts heading into their first media interview, first-time jitters are a common experience—and one we’re here to help with.

Here are five common questions we get from first-time interviewees, and some of the ways that you as a communicator—along with your experts—can feel more confident getting started.

  1. How should I prepare for the interview?
    Make sure your expert knows what will be required for the type of interview they’ll be doing. Will it be on the radio? Recorded live on television? Are they chatting over Zoom? There are different “best practices” for each format. A little time setting up a background for a video meeting or checking for stains on a shirt in advance of an on-camera appearance can pay dividends.
  2. How should I prepare for the interview without knowing exactly what the reporter will be asking?
    Whether it’s an expert’s first interview or their fiftieth, developing key messages is one of the most critical parts of interview preparation. Key messages should be true, brief, and easy to understand. Being able to identify and therefore relate questions back to key messages allows your experts to have confidence in their answers though they won’t know what exact questions will come up.
  3. What if I’m put on the spot, or am asked about something that’s outside of my expertise?
    While we don’t recommend saying “no comment,” experts should feel confident to:

    • Say: “That’s outside of my area of expertise.”
    • Say: “I don’t know the answer to that.” 
    • Say: “I’ll have to follow up with you.”
    • Decline to answer when appropriate.

    Saying “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

  4. Am I going to be alone when I do the interview?
    This is up to an expert’s personal preference. While many faculty members are comfortable doing interviews one-on-one with a reporter, staffing interviews is a critical function that both the University Relations PR team and many of the communications teams throughout the University provide.

    A staffer is involved in interactions with media partners to ensure accuracy and fairness, as well as manage reporter follow-up. This may look different depending on the type of interview. For example, if an expert is doing an interview over Zoom, the staffer may send out the video link, admit the expert and the journalist into the meeting, introduce the two parties, and take notes throughout the meeting for follow-up topics with their camera and microphone off.

  5. What other resources do you have for interview prep?
    When in doubt, remember the University Relations PR team is here to be your partner in media relations. A critical part of the team’s role is media training, briefing, and staffing for our partners, faculty, staff, and students.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to unews@umn.edu and the UR PR team will get you connected to the resources you need.