It's my story: helping care-experienced young people give effective media interviews

Brush up your knowledge of the media

You probably know a lot more about the media than you think. If you watch television or listen to the radio then you are regularly listening to people giving interviews. As a ‘consumer’ of these interviews you no doubt form opinions of the content, style of interview and the personality of the interviewer and interviewee. You probably do this on a fairly subconscious level most of the time – although there are some times when a pushy interviewer or a very evasive interviewee makes you more aware of the process.

To prepare for training young people to give more effective interviews, it can be very helpful to start listening to all interviews in a new way. Do this with a range of interviews – not just the heavy-end political interviews (although there is a lot to be learnt from these about techniques). Listen as well to local radio interviews and interviews on television where a specialist, academic, sports person, celebrity or member of the public is being interviewed.

Whenever you hear someone being interviewed, ask yourself some of the following questions:

About the interview generally

About the interviewee

About the interviewer

Key information about the media

In the accompanying training materials there are some exercises that will help young people to think about this topic. To be several steps ahead of them, so you feel more comfortable in answering questions, it is helpful to brush up on some key facts about the media. First some terms:


The differences between broadcast and print

There are differences between giving interviews to radio, television and print media. Most of the differences are more for the journalist/broadcaster to worry about, than for the person who is being interviewed. Someone who develops the confidence to handle radio and television interviews will feel more comfortable about giving interviews to print journalists, because these are usually considered much less nerve-racking. However, the essential differences are:

With radio and television interviews, tone of voice, body posture and body language are always important. If someone is frowning or slumped in their chair this will come across to the viewers – whether or not they can see the person. You can hear someone ‘smiling’ on the radio. So for interviews for radio and television it is important that you help the young person to think about how they will come across. Their presentation may be as important as the actual messages they give. A great message can be damaged if it is given by someone who looks shifty and mumbles. Equally a rather dull message can sound interesting if it is delivered with enthusiasm. An interviewee can help get a message across by looking or sounding confident, warm and approachable, and not so nervous or hostile that the viewer/listener switches off to what they are saying.

Timing is also key with radio and television interviews. Most interviews, whether live or pre-recorded, are quite short, often only a couple of minutes long. (Even if the journalist has spent 20 minutes interviewing someone they will probably still only use a very small portion of the final interview.) So it is important that the person who gives a radio or TV interview is able to make their point clearly and concisely

Although there are many similarities between what makes a good radio or TV interviewee, some people seem to be naturally better at TV than radio and vice versa. This is probably because some people feel more/less comfortable in front of a camera. Also, some people may also have expressive faces but less expressive voices, which means they work fine on TV but are not so good for radio. Sometimes there seems to be no clear reason – a person who struggles with radio interviews suddenly blossoms on camera, and nobody is sure why. But these things are hard to predict without giving someone the experience to find out what suits them best. 

In print what the person says is more important than the way they say it. So someone who takes time to ‘warm up’ in an interview situation or is less confident about speaking on air may be more comfortable giving an interview to a journalist. Some people are great at explaining things over the telephone or face-to-face but put them on air and they are very ill at ease. Many organisations have specialists who give great interviews to print journalists but never appear on radio or TV.

Never assume that just because a young person is good at speaking to print journalists that they will necessarily enjoy or be good at giving interviews to broadcast media. The other way round is usually safer, because if someone can speak calmly and succinctly on TV or radio, they will probably be fine talking to a journalist over the phone.

(It is worth remembering that although young people are often more anxious about giving interviews to broadcast journalists, they actually have more control in a live TV or radio interview than in an interview with a print journalist. When you are live on air nobody can edit what you say, but print journalists have to select a few sentences from a much longer interview.)

Whatever type of interview a young person is giving, the key to a good interview is always good preparation.

News and features

Get some first-hand experience

If you have the opportunity to visit your local radio or TV station then take it! You can learn a lot about how journalists work from watching a station in action. For example, you will see the pressure journalists work under to keep everything running to time and you will probably be surprised at how small and under-staffed many local radio stations are.

A visit to your local newspaper may also be useful but it won’t be quite so exciting – and they may be too short-staffed to agree to this. Many local newspapers are run by just a handful of people using freelance photographers. If your local newspaper tells you they are too busy to speak to you or attend your event, they are probably telling the truth!

Get a real journalist involved

If you are able to invite a journalist from a local station along to talk to and interview the young people you work with, or even to do some interview practice with the young people, that will offer a valuable opportunity. Young people will see that journalists don’t have two heads. Also, interviewing for TV and radio is a skill and not everyone has a natural flair for this. A trained media professional will be able to provide a more realistic and probably more supportive experience for the young people. A trained interviewer is also in a better position to give helpful feedback and tips about getting their point of view across.