"Ermm, errrr, well, the epistemic framework underlying the programmatic component..." or, what not to say in a press interview

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgThe press release for our big grant came out today. I have so far been interviewed by the student paper, and the local NPR station, and I have already learned some things about what not to do in interviews with friendly reporters. Some tips are below that I'll add to over the day, and please share some of your thoughts in the comments.

  • We wrote some talking points to share with all the main grant members who were more involved in different parts, and may be less prepared about others. Don't forget to read them carefully, annotate them, and add to them BEFORE your press release goes out. Ack.
  • Radio people want short snippets of you talking that they can play in their story. Don't rely on your spur-of-the-moment brilliance and practice at professing to help you through the interview - instead, think of some snippets beforehand! And write them down! And put them, written down, next to your phone!
  • Don't be afraid to ask the reporter/interviewer to call you back in 30 minutes. Then don't fritter that time away doing other stuff or agonizing about what you're going to say or visualizing yourself screwing up the interview. Instead, consider spending the time writing down those short snippets. And visualizing how eloquent you are.
  • Don't avoid calling your news office and asking if they have any suggestions on how to talk with the media. And then don't completely forget what they tell you.
  • Don't think that no press will call you. I guess this is the biggie. I really thought people would have other things to report on. I mean, I'm glad they're interested, but my imposter syndrome got in the way - "No one could possibly be interested in me and my work, could they?" Yes, darn it, they could, and are! So prepare!
  • Don't say "blah blah blah" at all, ever, even in a not very important part of the interview, when you can say "etcetera." Because then you'll imagine headlines all day that say something like "Assistant professor Alice Pawley disparaged the work of colleagues by saying "blah blah blah"".

Okay, I admit it, really I'm writing this post to bring some humor into my day, lest I spend it reliving my agonizingly painful radio interview. Can I have a do-over?

Updated at 6:34: I heard the first radio spot just after the 6 pm news. My husband verifies I did not sound stupid, so that's good to hear. Two more are still to come.

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That is some good advice! Sorry your interview did not go so well. Recently I reviewed a book called "Becoming Leaders" which includes advice about how to deal with the media - how to present yourself, how to portray yourself as an authority. Might be helpful for some readers!

See, this is why academics need significant people in their lives. Listen to your husband. And use your pointers to help you when you have your next opportunity to be interviewed by the press.

I recently had a run-in with some press and it was painful. I received an award and the awarding entity wanted to write a profile of me so they had someone from their PR department contact me. It took three lengthy email questionnaires, at least three long phone calls, and an in-person interview before he got his story. There were some remarkable misinterpretations of what I said along the way, which was a lesson for me in how unbelievably clear and straightforward you have to be with non-scientists, especially those who are trying to translate your statements into an interesting story. This lesson was reinforced by my family who said they never really understood the point of my work until they read the article. I think that shows I need to work on my communication skills!

I'm sure you did better than you think. And even if you didn't, it's a hard thing to do! Certainly something that seems like it should be easy but is really something we need to be coached for.

Congrats with your day of fame! :-)

I've never worked with radio, but I listen to it often enough, and it's incredible what difference it makes if people manage to cut the ermm's and errr's that we use so often in daily speech. Normally we want time to think while we speak, so we buy ourselves time with small words and incomplete sentences, but that just sounds amateurish on radio. A writing journalist will remove those things for you when she quotes you, but on radio that doesn't work. So I agree that writing down what you want to say (and saying it out loud a few times) is the best thing one can do. Keeping the main points clear in your own mind is the basis for any good interview, I'd say.

My radio experience has only been with local radio in FavouriteIslands. Among my tips - when being interviewed outdoors, do NOT fiddle with the zipper on your coat... running the zipper up and down makes the recording sound like a wasp got in the microphone and is buzzing around. practice speaking standing still so your waterproof garments don't rustle.

We were interviewed once whilst in the field collecting samples, and the radio team took ages because they wanted to get a 'really good sound effect' from the sampling equipment (which is pretty quiet - I think we resorted to banging everything around really unprofessionally to create noise!)

JaneB, I completely snorted when I thought of the sound of fiddling with a zipper into a mike! I'm thinking also of Calvin wearing a snowsuit in Calvin and Hobbes - "zip zop zip zop zip zop..."

My new lesson, now that I've heard all the radio spots and the student paper has come out (I'm not quoted in the city paper article), is that I would have never predicted what the reporters found quoteworthy. Luckily, not the "blah blah blah" comment. :-)

Love the title of this post! Yes, talking to the media is always a challenge. I find student newspapers particularly challenging - I can never predict what they are going to take out of context. Practice is really important. Several years ago I attended a workshop put on by my professional society on working with the media that was very helpful.

One more - Don't assume that journalists know what you are talking about - especially when it is science or even technical. The way you would explain it to your 8-year-old niece will be an appropriate level for mass media.

You can also ask the reporter to explain back to make sure they understand.

I'm sure you did great.

well some folks thought you did well

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Leading the News

Purdue University receives federal grant to attract more female STEM faculty.

Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., "has won a nearly $4 million federal grant to develop new programs and standards to attract more women to join its faculty," the AP (9/18) reports. "The five-year, $3.92 million National Science Foundation grant is intended to increase the number of women faculty members in so-called STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math -- as well as agriculture." At Purdue, women make up 15 percent of the school's STEM faculty, "and minority women only make up one percent." The AP points out that the "grant will be used in part to create the Purdue Center for Faculty Success, which will provide targeted research, programs and university-level coordination to attract more women and help them succeed." Alice Pawley, assistant professor of engineering education, said that "the grant will allow Purdue to study the experiences of female faculty members -- and especially minority women -- in STEM fields." Pawley explained, "Once we understand better how to help diverse faculty succeed at Purdue, we can integrate this research directly into our programs."

OMG, I was on the Chronicle? I totally missed it!!! Waybackmachine, here I come... oh wait, I'll have to wait 6 months... Oh well, thanks for the heads up!