Preparing for All Kinds of Interviews

How You Can Help Train Spokespeople

The following section appears in the ALA’s Library Advocates Handbook, and is reproduced here thanks to Patricia Glass-Schuman, former ALA president. The goal of media coaching is simple: to help people channel their passion, personality, and commitment to an issue, whether they’re appearing on TV, speaking to a group of legislators or talking to a reporter over lunch. The most effective and engaging spokespeople are those who are prepared, focused, genuinely enthusiastic and comfortable with themselves.

Key Points


This is critical! For a successful interview, use the messages developed for your campaign. Refine them by defining key points and finding the most effective phrases, facts and examples for illustrating those points. Think about your target audience and how to best reach it. To develop sample sound bites, brainstorm sound bites with friends, family and colleagues. Choose vivid images. Paint pictures with words. Try them out on friends. Below we’ve included some examples. More are available in the ALA online messagebook (must be logged in to ALA website to view).

On funding:

  • Invest in futures. Support libraries.
  • We’re finding it difficult to meet twenty-first-century demands with nineteenth-century budgets.
  • Everyone loves libraries. But libraries can’t live on love alone.
  • The future is @ your library, so make sure your library has a future.

On role of libraries and librarians:

  • Libraries open minds.
  • Libraries change lives.
  • Libraries save lives.
  • Libraries are your passport to cyberspace.
  • Librarians are the guardians of your right to know.
  • Librarians support parents. We don’t replace them.
  • Libraries bring you the world.
  • Libraries are places of opportunity.


On the way home from work, at staff meetings or at someone else’s desk at lunchtime, rehearse your remarks before interviews. Your colleagues are even more likely than reporters to know the tough questions that might be thrown at you. That will give you the chance to prepare a reply, try it out, time it (for live broadcasts especially), and revise. Tape yourself on audio or video. Play it back, so you can hear yourself as others do. Then refine your presentation.


(TV, radio,print), and use the training to work on one specific type of outlet. Most problems are nonverbal. They may include adopting a wooden body posture; presenting material too technically; averting, darting, or poorly using eyes; ineffective use of hands; lack of facial expression or one that communicates fear, hostility, arrogance, or defensiveness; low energy; humorlessness; and use of boring language. Have your trainer help to identify weaknesses and then work on ways to eradicate them.


Everyone has a personal style. What is yours? How is your physical appearance? Your rate of speech, pitch and tone of voice? Your level of animation, use of gestures, eye contact, comfort level? Bring your full personality and most expressive physical self to every interview in person or by telephone.


Hostile interviewers or interview questions often throw the most experienced public speakers off guard. It’s important to redirect a question if you need to, but be sure to respond in a way that is positive, contributes to the dialogue and doesn’t make you look evasive or defensive. If a reporter uses negative, incorrect or inflammatory words in a question, don’t legitimize them by repeating the misconception in your answer. The hotter the interviewer gets, the cooler you need to be. Stay friendly, calm and direct in a response to a nasty questioner or loaded question.

Ten Tricks to Help You Succeed on Radio

  1. LISTEN TO THE SHOW TO LEARN HOW IT WORKS. Before you call to get on a radio talk show, listen to it so you know the format, the length of segments, and host’s style.
  2. CALL AT LEAST TWO WEEKS AHEAD TO BOOK A GUEST. The timing may take even longer if it’s a popular show. Once you’ve sent your materials and received a confirmation, send an email or written note to the producer double-checking all of the details and finalizing who will initiate the interview, sharing phone numbers and listing who else can be called if needed.
  3. AVOID OFF-THE-WALL HOSTS. With plenty of shows to choose from in most markets, there’s no need to get insulted on the air. Pick a show that will give you a chance to deliver your message.
  4. TALK SLOWLY. Vary your voice quality. Sound like you’re dying to share some juicy gossip. Don’t use too many numbers. Avoid jargon.
  5. PAINT VERBAL PICTURES. Since body language can’t connect you to your audience, try to paint pictures with words.
  6. PRACTICE IN PRIVATE. Either with a friend co-worker or on tape, practice answering questions and handling hostile callers.
  7. REMEMBER TO MENTION YOUR LIBRARY’S NAME AT LEAST TWICE. Since people tune in and out; just because you were introduced with an ID doesn’t mean most listeners heard it. Bring a cassette and ask the engineer to pop it in so you can leave with a recording.
  8.  LEARN TO ANSWER ODD QUESTIONS WITH THE POINTS YOU WANT TO MAKE. It’s okay  once a show to use the bridging technique to tell the audience, “What I really hope your audience will want to understand about libraries is. . . .”
  9. ORGANIZE A CAMPAIGN if you’re having trouble getting on the air of a talk radio show. Write and call. Try to arrange to visit the producer or station manager. Send a demo audiocassette. If all else fails, call in while the show is on the air!
  10. ORGANIZE SOME CALLERS if you get on the air for a show with call-ins. See that some friends of your library call, ask good questions, and show support.

How to Succeed on TV

The following section was originally developed by Patricia Glass-Schuman (former ALA president) in ALA’s Library Advocates Handbook .


DEVELOP THREE KEY POINTS IN ADVANCE: Television is a medium that requires you to be informal, relaxed and conversational—but to get your message across forcefully in a very brief time. For most interviews, it’s important to develop three key points and make those points quickly and effectively. Find the descriptive words, visual images, and concrete examples that best make those points.

PAINT PICTURES WITH YOUR WORDS. Especially for TV, but in all interviews, colorful phrases that call up visual images make interesting quotes. Keep a notebook of such images by your phone, along with key facts and good sound bites.

DRESS THE PART. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably seen someone being interviewed on TV only to find yourself thinking, “What are they wearing?” Chances are, you can’t remember what that person was talking about. With a visual news medium like TV, there are a few ways you can make sure you’re being seen and heard.


  • Business clothes/suits (it’s harder to take someone seriously who is in jeans).
  • Remember: A microphone may need to be clipped onto a blouse or shirt from
  • underneath, so imagine how that may work when selecting your clothing.
  • Jackets and ties for men.
  • Vibrant colors like blue, teal, rose, red, and burgundy.
  • Makeup: for women, make your makeup a little heavier than normal, but in your usual shades. For men, be prepared to wear a translucent powder and possibly foundation, especially in a studio setting. Going without makeup for men can result in looking sweaty or shiny.


  • Women should avoid low-cut or sleeveless blouses and short skirts.
  • Men should avoid T-shirts and open shirts.
  • Plaid and large or busy prints.
  • Dangling jewelry.
  • Very dark or very light colors.
  • Hairstyles that may hang in your face or be distracting.

Dealing with Bad News

The following section originally appeared in ALA’s Library Advocates Handbook. Inevitably, all organizations have to deal with bad news. Budget cuts. Trimmed hours or closed branches. Parents who want to ban books from the library. While bad news is never good, it can be turned into a positive media message. For example, when a teenage hacker crashed Seattle’s King County Library System’s computer system, closing the library down for three days, the story became the marvels of the technology rather than its failure, thanks to the library’s quick and thoughtful response.

Some bad news you can see coming—budget cuts are generally in the works for weeks.

Others, like crimes, cannot be anticipated. Either way, it’s important for libraries to have a crisis communications plan.

Here are a few tips for handling bad news:

  • DON’T OVERREACT. If only one small paper carries the story, only respond to that paper. Don’t send out a release to all your media contacts. If they don’t know about the bad news, you probably don’t want to tell them about it.
  • BE STRATEGIC. If the news is huge, consider holding a press conference to communicate the facts, new developments, and the library’s response or message. It will save you time and resource to hold one press conference rather than take a dozen individual interviews.
  • SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE. The most common mistake in crisis communications is to have several spokespeople saying different things. Have one spokesperson, or make sure that all your spokespeople are saying the same thing.
  • UNDERSTAND INTERVIEW TOPICS AND FORMATS BEFORE ACCEPTING INTERVIEWS. During these times, it is very important to be sure you understand the nature of a talk radio show or TV interview before you agree to go on. Don’t speculate. Know who else will be on the show, if there will be call-ins, and what the host’s position is before making a choice to go on. If you don’t think you’ll be given a fair hearing, it might not be best to accept the interview.
  • FOCUS ON THE SOLUTION. Explain how the library is going to address the situation or say that the library is looking for a speedy solution.
  • APOLOGIZE WHEN APPROPRIATE. “We apologize for any inconvenience to our users. We are doing our best to . . .” Empathize. Convey caring and understanding.
  • HAVE ALL THE FACTS BEFORE RESPONDING. Often, when news just breaks, not even the media has all the facts. Make sure you know exactly what is going on before responding to something that could just be a rumor or an exaggerated allegation.
  • PREPARE BRIEFING MATERIALS. As soon as you can, have briefing materials for the media, with accurate facts included.
  • LET LAWYERS REVIEW STATEMENTS BEFORE RELEASING THEM. If this situation has legal implications, make sure you consult with a lawyer before making a statement. Avoid “legalese,” but make sure that what you’re saying is ok to say.
  • STICK TO THE HIGH ROAD. Avoid criticizing or getting personal with your opponents. Don’t be defensive. Staying focused on your message and on the high road will ultimately be your best weapon.