Since 1977, over 10,000 Spokespersons Trained.
Part 3 - Interview: Print, Radio, and Television

Chapter 17

Radio interviews generally fall into two basic categories. The first is the telephone call; it is either taped for later playback or aired ďlive.Ē The second type is that in which you go to the station to be interviewed by the host/announcer, who usually encourages call-in questions from the listening audience.

The telephone interview should be handled in much the same way you handle a press reporterís inquiry, with a couple of important differences. In the radio-telephone interview you are speaking directly to the public from the time you open your mouth. Your message is not filtered through a reporter.

Because you are talking directly to the public, you must avoid jargon, and focus on speaking within your audienceís frame of reference: vocabulary, technical background, etc. Equally important is the requirement that you keep your explanations brief. Itís rare that you will have more than two or three minutes to respond to the announcerís questions. You must instill the essence of your thoughts on the matter, and then deliver succinct, concise statements. Using the ďone-linersĒ described in Chapter 13 will be helpful in this situation.

More and more spokesperson are taking their messages to the air waves by capitalizing on time available during radio talk shows. They are superb opportunities to reach thousands of listeners at a time, versus the fifty to one hundred you might read during a typical speech.

Once you have accepted an invitation to participate on the program, it is imperative that you listen to the show for several days in advance. This is the best way to peg the host, and to get a firm grip on the make-up of the listening audience. Youíll find a surprising number of questions called in by the same individuals day after day, especially in small towns.

You should also review an expected line of questioning and the answers you hope to use in reply. Donít memorize answers; just rehearse them enough to gain a solid, quick command of your data.

When you arrive at the station, the following suggestions may help you in your quest for more effective interviews.

Arrive Early

Plan to arrive at least 45 minutes prior to show time, and earlier if the host requests you to. This will give you an opportunity to feel comfortable in the studio environment and with the host. The host will usually want to engage in a little pre-airtime chitchat to get to know you, to loosen you up, and to set you at ease. A stiff interviewee, after all, seldom makes an interesting guest.

As with other interview situations, this is a good time to confirm the anticipated line of questioning. Donít forget to mention that you heard the show on an earlier occasion Ė and how interesting, entertaining, and informative it was. A little positive reinforcement may help build rapport between you and the host.

Prepare Your Voice

Unlike the newspaper interview, this time youíll be heard. A nervous quiver in your voice will do little to reinforce listener confidence in your message. You may feel a bit self-conscious when you hear the announcerís voice; it will boom with resonance and vitality. Your voice may sound pale.

Doing some diaphragmatic abdominal breathing exercises (see Chapter 3) prior to the show will help loosen your voice. Many spokespersons do breathing exercises and even vocalize a bit before interview show. During the drive to the studio, try singing aloud in your car. These things may sound on the corny side, but they serve the purpose; they help relieve your nervous anxiety, and they help you limber up your speaking apparatus: lungs, vocal chords.

Ground Rules

Check with your host to determine precisely how listener questions are handled technically. Will the host take all questions and turn them over to you? Or will you be able to speak directly to the questioner?

Make arrangements with your host to handle questions that need follow up. Can a secretary get the listenerís name and phone number off the air, so that you may get additional information to them? Most callers are rightfully reluctant to give their telephone number or address to the entire radio audience.


Radio scheduling is usually more flexible than television. A thirty-minute television show is pre-packaged to be just that. On the other hand, a live radio show initially scheduled for thirty minutes may be expanded on the spur of the moment if listener interest is strong enough. Be prepared to stay longer if you are requested to do so Ė and be flattered if you are asked. By the same token, donít be surprised if both the interview and the audience questioning is cut short of the scheduled time. Your hostís first priority is to make the show entertaining. If things are dragging, if calls arenít coming in, he/she may decide to move on to more fertile ground.

Be Interesting

If you are dull and uninteresting, you may not be able to complete the show as scheduled; you will certainly never be invited back again.

Use lively and colorful language. Develop solid vocal vitality with lots of pitch modulation. Use your sense of humor. If the host or a listener cracks a joke, enjoy it with them. Donít be stiff or stoic. Talk to the host as if he/she were a guest in your living room, someone you really want to get to know better, and whose company you enjoy.

Avoid Jargon

Be careful to talk from the language level and technical sophistication you expect of your audience. Handle each call-in question individually, but keep in mind that hundreds Ė perhaps thousands Ė of other listeners are hearing your dialogue. Use language and examples that an average listener can understand and relate to. Always speak from within the frame reference of your audience.

Speak In Personal Terms

Donít spew out impersonal company policy. Listeners want to feel like they have a one-on-one relationship with you. They want to hear you tell them how you feel and think. Donít speak of your company as some cold, remote third party. Use first-person pronouns (I, me, we, us) whenever possible.

ĎOne Linersí

Brief, succinct answers elaborated by any necessary support information is the most effective format in fielding radio audience questions. State your most important point at the beginning. Be direct and forthright; donít ramble. Donít attempt to confuse the questioner; remember that other people are listening, and that theyíll hear your offensive tactics. Give specific, concrete answers, and youíll be most effective.

Human Considerations

Show empathy for your listeners who tell you about personal problems that may involve your company. Lack of feeling or concern for one listener will quickly alienate the rest of them. Any time human safety or well-being is involved, address that aspect first. Show the audience that you are not a cold-blooded ogre who cares only about profit. People always come first.

Fess Up

When you donít know an answer, simply say so. Donít guess. Donít lie. Tell the questioner that you donít know, but that youíll find out and get back to them if they wish. Donít embellish the truth. Telling the truth unadorned is the best policy.


As in other situations, donít attempt to answer questions you donít understand. Donít be afraid to ask the questioners to be more specific. Sometimes the host can help you clarify the meaning of a callerís remarks; he/she is intimately familiar with the audience.

Expect The Unexpected

Call-in radio shows are notorious for weird callers. Perhaps people feel a bit bolder over the phone then they do face-to-face. Whatever the topic, expect strange or totally unrelated questions, hostile questions, inane or nonsensical questions. Frequently your host will rescue you from the real ďnutsĒ in the audience.


No matter what happens, stay calm and retain your poise. If a caller unleashes his or her wrath on you, act as an emotional sponge (see Chapter 14). Provide whatever supportive silence you can afford within your time limits, then respond in a calm and professional manner. If things get too far out of hand, your host will usually intervene.


When the show draws to a close, donít forget to thank your host for inviting you; then thank the listeners for their participation. You may wish to take a minute or two to reiterate your bottom-line message.

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