Scroll Top


Set and achieve objectives for media interviews


Prepare effectively and efficiently


Understanding and learning to control your nerves

Set and achieve objectives for media interviews

Learning outcomes

When you complete this section, you should be able to:

  1. Know how to use strategic messages in your interview
  2. Identify and prioritise your target audiences
  3. Understand what the ‘delivered audience’ needs to hear
  4. Determine the outcome we want from the audience (what we want them to do as a result)
Understanding strategic messaging

Before considering any interview, it is important to always be aware of you and your organisation’s long term strategic messaging. This is the kind of message that incorporates your values, mission or strategy statements. It prioritises particular messages and emphasises these. This should form the basis of your approach ahead of any campaign or interview.

For example:

Organisational strategic message:

“We place patient safety and comfort at the core of everything we do, and this is our priority.”

Campaign message:

“It is important to register for this scan and we encourage everyone to do so.”

Interview message:

“Of course, our priority is always the safety and comfort of patients. That’s why getting this scan is important. It ensures better outcomes, gives you peace of mind and prioritises your health and safety at an important stage of life.”

Before any campaign happens where you might be a spokesperson, be sure that you are well aware of the long-term strategic messaging and that what you say is consistent with your organisation’s objectives. Familiarise yourself with them because the audience is more likely to remember them over a series of interviews.

Understanding strategic messaging

It is important to remember that you do not have to do every interview that you might be requested for. You must analyse whether the opportunity is the correct one for you to participate in. This starts by understanding whether the media outlet will reach the people you want to reach. You will have a target audience in mind. Each media outlet has a specific audience that listens or reads their information. So, for example, if you want to talk about vaccines for people over 50, then a request from a show targeting people under 25 will not deliver the message to the audience you want to receive it. You must assess each opportunity with a number of considerations in mind.


Use the checklist below to get that information when the station first contacts you:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the topic?
  • What areas to be covered?
  • What is the angle?
  • Why am I being asked to speak?
  • What is my interview sandwiched between?

If you decide that you can reach a specific audience through the media outlet, you can then confirm the interview. But only if you have enough time to prepare. Never accept an invitation to do an interview without preparation or in a short space of time. You would never choose to address 500 people without preparing what to say; why would you address a possible 500,000 people through a media outlet without preparation?

If you decide to do the interview you must then be very clear in your messaging about the audience you are talking to. You want to engage with the people for whom you will have the most impact. The Carr Communications audience spectrum below demonstrates this. All audiences exist on a scale from -10 to +10, with 0 being apathy or complete lack of knowledge either way.

At -10 there is an audience who are completely opposed to you before you ever speak. This is usually quite a vocal, outspoken audience but nothing you say can ever change their opinion or move them from where they are. Yet, in interviews, organisations and individuals often spend a lot of time trying to answer their accusations, or worse, adjusting their message in the hope that this audience will be quieter. However, they will not move or adjust as a result.

On the other end of the scale are +10 people who are absolutely convinced of your position. They do not need to be reached or converted. Very often they are colleagues, collaborators, allies and friends. However, this can lead to groupthink and a failure to question your position and prepare. Often people will wish to say things to appease people in this category so that they feel included, or the interviewee wants to impress them with their knowledge. However, it fails to engage the important audience.

The vast majority of people on any given topic exist from -4 to +4. This is a quieter audience but a much larger and more moveable one. They are perhaps slightly positive but not fully convinced of what you say, or they may have some concerns that make them opposed to what you are saying. It is this audience you must address. Be clear to identify their needs and talk directly to them in a language they can understand. Your objective is not to move everybody to +10 in one interview because that is impossible. Instead, you want to move them to a more positive point on the spectrum by dealing with questions or providing information.

Analysing audience needs and behaviours

You should analyse your audience in order to identify what your messaging should be for the media opportunity and what information you will require for those messages. You should also be cognisant of the audience’s risk perception, that is, how they think and feel about the risks they face and the likelihood of something negative happening to them, for example, illness, injury, disease or death. This is important when deciding what they need to hear from you.

Many people immediately jump to ‘What do I want to say?’. However, you must first ask ‘What does this audience want to hear?’ and then match this with what you want to say.

First, try to narrow your audience down to one person. In your interview you want to speak to that one person directly. Personify them in your mind. This can help to create an image of what they are saying and doing and how you might change that.

You should always try to move your audience to a new place in their thinking and/or behaviour.

Ask yourself what they ‘Think, Say and Do’ right now and compare this with what you would like them to ‘Think, Say and Do’. This will give you clear objectives for your audience and help you identify their needs.

You now need to examine your data, examples and evidence and see what information you have that would help that audience move position from the left to the right as per the diagram above.

Establishing what will engage audience

People consume many media formats in any given day. They are continually deciding what deserves their attention and what does not. In particular, people listening to radio or scrolling through social media can be easily distracted. They are normally doing many other things (driving, working, jogging, ironing, walking, cooking etc). Their mind can wander easily if the content does not appear relevant to them.

There are three broad categories that cause us to listen to someone:


We may listen to someone simply because they are interesting. Very often this is based around a story that we want to hear, or the interviewee forces us to imagine or picture something by using very evocative language and examples.



Sometimes a topic may not be considered naturally interesting. However, if we can demonstrate to an audience that what we are saying affects them then they will listen. For example, the audience might not find health discussions interesting but if the interviewee says:

“People can often have the attitude of ‘that doesn’t apply to me’. But if you are 45 or older, overweight and eat an unhealthy diet, you are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes which will have a severe impact on your health and wellbeing.”

We may immediately listen because we respond to the description of us and know it is relevant.



When there is a clear benefit then we listen to someone. So, when we are trying to learn how to do something, where to go to get something, how to apply, or how to understand something we may need for someone else, then we listen. It might be to tell us our rights, or entitlements or arrangements being put in place for something. If we can demonstrate to the audience the benefit in listening to us, they will give us their time and pay attention.


Setting targets and messaging objectives

It is now time to establish some targets and objectives for your interview. Now that you know your audience, it is important to identify a clear number of points you wish to get across. This should be no more than 2-3 key points. Anything more is likely to lead to confusion and you may run out of time. Instead aim to move the audience along the spectrum by clearly handling some key concerns or questions. Ask yourself the question, what does this audience most need to hear from me right now?


Set targets that will assist you in the interview, for example:

  • Ensure that all key points are mentioned.
  • Give important data such as helpline or website address.
  • Give concise stories or examples and ensure that you get to tell these.
  • Personalise these examples, where possible.
  • Establish a good rapport with interviewer.


You may have particular objectives for a campaign or interview, such as directing people to a website or helpline or recommending a course of action. When you are setting these objectives, you should always ensure that they are something you can remember and focus on during the interview. Also try and pick something you can measure afterwards. For example, an objective of ‘convince the audience I am right’ is impossible to measure unless you have polling in place to measure this before and after! But visits to a website is an easy target to measure.

Prepare effectively and efficiently

Learning outcomes

When you complete this section, you should be able to:

  1. Prepare for an interview
  2. Structure your messages for maximum impact
  3. Identify the best examples and evidence to use in your interview
  4. Know how to handle difficult questions
Preparing for opening an interview

In any interview the opening 40 seconds is hugely important. In this time the audience will decide if what you’re saying is relevant to them and if they should continue listening. It also sets up the rest of the interview, provides structure and allows you to settle into the interview itself.

Before the interview, you should prepare your opening lines, irrespective of the first question that will be asked. You should retrofit your prepared opening line into a response to the first question. If you have identified the audience clearly and this is relevant to them, then the audience will be happy, and the interviewer can come back to another angle if they wish.

You should aim to do the following in your opening:

  • Describe why what you’re speaking about is important.
  • Show who it is relevant to.
  • Outline what your key points are going to be.

For instance, a strong opening could be:

“This report highlights how we can improve services in XXXXX. These services affect all of us and in particular can mean life or death to those with health conditions like xxx or yyy. What it has shown us is that there are a number of areas that must be addressed. There is underfunding that is creating a backlog and serious issues for patients; there is a need for greater collaboration because we are missing out on learnings from elsewhere; and there is a need for greater use of technology because it could greatly improve waiting times for patients.”

Structuring key messages and answers

You should have no more than two-three key messages in your interview. This will allow the audience to focus on what you say and recall it easily.  Each key message should have the following structure:




For example:

“Vaccines are really important and play a significant role in protecting people from the effects of Covid-19, particularly those who are vulnerable. These effects are very real – not only the obvious risk of death but also the potential for long-term, life-limiting complications. I recently met someone who contracted Covid and even now, many months later, they are experiencing breathing difficulties, fatigue and other symptoms that have hugely impacted their life. Vaccines are proven to reduce the effect of Covid-19 by X% and these figures have been confirmed by European regulatory authorities. So, we can have confidence in vaccines and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”


It is important to structure your answers so that they always refer to a key message. You may even need more than one example or story to properly illustrate the point.

Each key message should follow from the other. In other words, ensure that you can give them priority and the audience can tell what this is or alternatively to give them a linear order (such as things happening one after the other in a timeline).

When giving a key message it is important to expand the point with an example or story. This will engage the audience and make your message relatable and then you can introduce the data or statistics that support your message and example. Always remember that when using data, it is not the data itself but the relevance of the data that is important. Finally, have a clear way of finishing up the message in mind, for example, leading to a call to action, or location for further information.

For answers to specific questions that you may be asked outside of key messages, keep the following in mind:

  • Always move from the specific to the general when making a point rather than the other way around.
  • State and develop. Commit and then qualify rather than other way around.
  • Disfluency comes from buying time, so do not search for answers: instead focus on bringing it back to a key message.
How to use examples, data and stories

Audiences react to stories and examples more than anything else in an interview. Think of great interviews or situations you can recall. It is rarely a statistic that stands out but instead it is a story or example of how someone was impacted by something. Stories shape our beliefs, decisions and actions. They are more memorable and therefore more impactful for the audience.

We need stories to help us interpret statistics. We may be well aware that there are thousands of people suffering from a disease, but it is one person’s story of how it affected them that will cause the greater reaction.

Every key point should have a story to back it up. The story should be visual, forcing people to imagine something.  Ask the audiences to ‘Imagine a situation where…’  or ‘If you think about someone doing x’ or Picture a child who has to….’ Anything like this draws us in and forces us to engage with the material.

Examples bring an interview to life and create something memorable for the audience. A computer system is not memorable in itself, however, the story of a computer system put in a context of the people working on it, the time savings, the lives affected, the difference it’s making is a much more memorable interview.

Closing out answers and setting up new points

An interview is a conversation. The audience does not want a lecture. Therefore, it is important to have a good two way conversation with the interviewer. That means your answers should be concise and to the point following the structure we set out.

However, many people think of how they will start a point, then the story and evidence they want to back that up but fail to think how to end the point. This can mean that they can keep talking and searching for a landing point where they can stop. This can lead to the interviewer having to interrupt or for the interviewee to end up saying something they did not intend.

Therefore, you must think of how to end a point. This can be done in two ways. Firstly, have some strong general rounding up points. These are usually a form of reiterating and reemphasising the key message again. If you find yourself suddenly trying to figure out how to end a point, go to one of these lines and use them and hand back to the interviewer.

If you are comfortable with interviews there is another method. This is where you decide that in ending your point you will leave another point hanging to signpost to the interviewer where you want to go next. For example:

“…and that is why we have introduced this new policy for doctors but of course patients will be eager to see how it affects them…”   The next obvious question from the interviewer has to be ‘Well what does it mean for patients then?”

Handling off topic or difficult questions

When faced with an off topic or difficult question that you may not be in a position to answer or do not want to answer, you need to firmly take control in the interview. This is also important when you do not have all of the information, but still need to reassure the audience. You cannot ignore or avoid a question completely so you must address it, but this should be done in no more than one or two lines. You then need to bring it back to a point that is relevant and on topic.

For instance, if you are talking about outcomes of research but suddenly get asked what the top people in the research institutions earn you might say:

“All salaries are in line with the public sector guidelines and industry norms, but that does not impact the importance of the research which shows that people need x if they want to do y etc…”

This pivot allows you to reference an item and move on. If you cannot talk about something or do not know an answer you can also say something like the following:

“We can’t comment on that for legal reasons right now but to take this back to the research, what is required now is that governments do…”

Often people feel they can answer a question or have prepared three or four points to answer it. This means that they get into a discussion which is now off topic, or worse, may not be relevant at all to their target audience. Therefore, stick to the approach of giving just one line and moving back to the topic. If the interviewer pulls you away from the topic, then give your second point and again try to move back on topic and continue to do this.

There may be times when you may need to engage with media when there is still uncertainty during a health crisis, for example, how the crisis is developing, when it might end, and so on.


In this situation, the approach you should take in answering a question is:


  • To establish what you know and what you can say as a result
  • What is not known and why it is not known
  • When the audience can expect clarity on that in future
  • Or if it is not, possible why not.


Sticking to these parameters is essential to help the audience understand the limitations but also to set down a firm outline of what you can engage with the interviewer on.

Rehearsing and preparing for an interview

You must always rehearse before any interview opportunity. This means that you must find a place where you can speak out loud and hear yourself speaking the answers. This is an important part as you will get a sense of how it sounds and flows which may be very different to what it sounds like in your head. If you can record yourself on a phone or other device and then listen back to it to see if you can identify improvements.

Use the following grid to help you prepare for all questions – an example is provided below.

The key elements of the health advice and where to get further information

Case Studies

Data Points


Who is most at risk?

What happens if I don’t follow this advice?

When can I stop following this?

Why should we trust the advice of a medical professional?

Are people making money out of enforcing this?

You must always rehearse before any interview opportunity. This means that you must find a place where you can speak out loud and hear yourself speaking the answers. This is an important part as you will get a sense of how it sounds and flows which may be very different to what it sounds like in your head. If you can record yourself on a phone or other device and then listen back to it to see if you can identify improvements.

Use the following grid to help you prepare for all questions – an example is provided below.

A Few Extra Factors to Keep in Mind When Preparing

The first and last questions follow a pattern

The first and last questions follow a pattern

In most interviews, the first question is: What is the story here?

In most interviews, the last question is: Where do we go from here?

Different words are used. But the meaning is usually some variant of these two questions. Prepare accordingly.

Keep control of the interview

Keep control of the interview by talking about specific examples

If you talk in general terms, you’re easy to interrupt and difficult to remember. Use detailed examples to illustrate your points.



You're the expert on your topic

You're the expert on your topic

Set out to be interesting. Don’t force the interviewer to ask a dozen questions to get the story out of you.





If you don't know the answer, say so

If you don't know the answer, say so

If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can either say you don’t know or prove you don’t know. Say it and offer to solve the information problem as soon as you can. If you are confused by the question, get it clarified.


Use first names rarely

Use first names rarely

Don’t try to flatter interviewers by using their first name. Only do this once at the beginning. Your target audience is out there listening in their car, on their earphones. If you continually use the interviewer’s name, it makes the audience feel they’re eavesdropping – they’re outsiders.

Go live if possible

Go live if possible

If you are doing a radio interview, live broadcast is best. You can control what is said. It’s not going to be edited. People tend to perform better live, despite (or perhaps because of) the possibility of making an error. The main problem with taped material is that others can edit your input. They mean you no harm, but their priorities are not your priorities.

The guidebook has provided practical advice and guidelines for how to prepare for and conduct an interview with media. There are some habits and actions you should avoid in any interview. These are provided below.

10 Media Interview Dos and Don’ts


bring the preparation grid into the studio: it’s too complicated.


write out full sentences on the card: radio presenters dread the interviewee who comes and reads aloud, rather than answering questions in a vivid immediate way.


use filler phrases: “I’m glad you asked me that question” or “That’s a good question.” Just get to your answer.


tell the interviewer what to ask you. Stay on your own side of the fence and offer what you came to offer.


argue with the interviewer. It’s not him or her you have to persuade. It’s the people at home. Think of the interviewer as a phone you’re using to get to that wider public.


attack anyone personally, attack the issue. No personal insults or characterisations.


repeat the words of an accusation.


put padding in front of your answers: “Well, it’s important that your listeners see this issue in its wider context.” Get to the point quickly, you only have limited time.


wait for the right question. It may never arrive. Find a way to make your point without it.

Use an evidence-based system for self-assessment and further development

Learning outcomes

When you complete this section, you should be able to:

  1. Listen to and assess feedback on your interview
  2. Assess the interview yourself and analyse your performance
  3. Identify areas for improvement
  4. Establish a plan for your next interview
Listening back to interviews and taking feedback

It is always important to listen back to an interview afterwards. It can also be helpful to have a colleague or friend give you some constructive feedback post publication. There are some important things to remember when doing this:

  • Do not use social media commentary on your interview as a guide, it is often filled by people who are not in your target audience and can be heavily negative without constructive feedback.
  • Remember you will probably be harder on yourself for minor errors. You will be critical of your voice or looks or phrases, but the audience will be more concerned with your content.
  • Look for items you can improve rather than things you think went really well.
  • Welcome feedback. If you are asked to do another interview, then you know you have done well.
  • Listen back with your target audience in mind. Ask yourself, how do you think they will react to what you have said?
  • Evaluate your interview against the objectives that you set (key messages, important examples, info to be given out) – did you achieve these?
Identifying opportunities for improvement

Identify areas for improvement that you can work on over time. You should do this in the following format:


  • Did I say everything I needed to? Did I leave anything out? If so, why?
  • Was I clear about what we want to happen, would a listener know what to think say or do differently?
  • Were examples clear and did they paint a picture?
  • Was I consistent with strategic messages/values and did that come across?



  • Was I clear and fluent? If not, why not?
  • Did I remember my message (were notes clear and of value to me?).
  • Was I comfortable? Does it sound like me? Is that how I speak talking to my target audience one to one?


Audience focus

  • Was the information relevant to the audience, and did I make that clear?
  • Did I answer the ‘So what?’ question if the audience asked that?
  • Were the language and words appropriate and accessible.



  • Were my answers concise, or did the interviewer have to interrupt?
  • Did I sound at ease with this interviewer, if not, why? Could I have prepared better for their style?
  • Was I animated and energetic, did I display a passion for my topic?
Focus points for next interview

Develop a plan for your next interview based on the feedback and analysis. This can feed into your preparation by allowing you to target particular areas of attention. You may want to make answers more concise; if so, rehearse these and time them until you get it right. You may want to pay particular attention to a certain message or topic or give yourself a new objective to reach in the next interview.

Whatever you feel you need to focus on, put this into a specific improvement card. When you start preparing for your next interview, you should follow the same procedure. Once you have identified your audience and content to be included, go back to the improvement card and focus on ways to ensure you can communicate these points better in the next interview.

Controlling your nerves

Learning outcomes

When you complete this section, you should be able to:

  1. Understand how nerves impact your ability to do a media interview
  2. How to channel your energy during the interview
  3. How to control your nerves and avoid losing concentration
  4. How to develop your confidence in the longer-term
Understanding nerves and how they affect us

Nerves are a natural reaction. When we are about to encounter something, we are not familiar with in an everyday sense, our fight or flight mechanism kicks in and the following happens

  • A shot of adrenaline goes through our system increasing our heart rate and giving us a ‘butterflies’ feeling.
  • The body is now deciding that blood must go to the muscles for fight or flight.
  • The increased blood flow creates friction, and our body starts to cool itself by sweating.
  • The blood sitting in the muscles unused (because we are not running or fighting) start stop gives us a shake. Ball your fists tightly for as long as you can and it can stop hands shaking, move your legs, walk a little, yawn or stretch your face muscles if you feel a twitch in your face.
  • Most of all realise that this is not unusual. All you need to do is get your brain to pull itself out of fight or flight and take a more logical approach
  • Do remember that in fight or flight mode you will also get a dry mouth so keep a glass of water to hand or ask for one.
  • Everyone gets these feelings; however, some see them as being ‘pumped’ ‘in the zone’ or ‘ready’. That is using it to their advantage.
Overcoming a loss of concentration

People often fear brain freeze or drawing blank. This happens because of what we call self-analysis. Your brain thinks faster than you can talk. So, when you are talking your mind can wander (Did I just say million instead of billion? Why are they looking like that? Are they paying attention? That light is really bright in my face, did someone laugh?).

These thoughts pass through our mind as we are talking but when this happens, we run the risk of losing where we are.

If that happens, we can panic, our heart rate goes up, our vision narrows, we can’t see what’s on a page in front of us and we freeze up. The best way to avoid this in an interview is to have 100% focus on what you are saying. Do not start thinking about the next point you want to make. If you do lose your train of thought, have key messages clearly written out in large print in front of you and just repeat one of these, and while it may not flow well it will at least unlock your brain in that moment and allow the interview to continue.

Controlling and channelling energy for an interview

It is important to channel your energy correctly for the interview. You will naturally be more alert and aware going into it and you can use this to your advantage. As you approach the interview try to remember the following:

  • You are the expert on the topic, that is why you have been asked to do the interview.
  • You can control the interview as you are the one in possession of the information.
  • Keep your focus on the key messages. Do not bring in a lot of notes or papers to the interview that will distract you. Instead keep a simple sheet that reminds you to focus on what you want to say.
  • Do not think of what could or might happen: focus on your audience and the outcome for them.
  • Do not imagine speaking to a crowd of people, keep your mind focussed on one person who would be typical of your audience and the conversation you are having with that person.
  • Take three deep breaths and then focus on controlling your breathing and relaxing your body ahead of the interview.
  • If you can, warm up your voice, make sure that you don’t have a dry throat, ensure that it is clear, have water nearby. Try saying messages with different tone and emphasis out loud to warm up your vocal cords and clear your throat.
  • Move around a little before the interview. You will probably be sitting down for the interview itself so ahead of it take a quick walk (even to the bathroom and back) just to let your body use up any excess energy.
How to reduce effects of nerves

Many people use different techniques to control a feeling of nerves. Use one that you find works for you. One of the simplest and most effective that we recommend is to stop using the words nerves or nervous! Replace these with exciting and excited. So, when you are asked how you are feeling about doing an interview say, ‘I am excited about it’. Your brain will feel the same physical reaction to both nerves and excitement, yet it interprets one as a threat and the other as a positive.

Keep in mind this is a great opportunity, you have something very important to say, it is exciting.

Ahead of an interview, always visualise the positive outcomes. Allow yourself to feel confident in your ability and acknowledge that this is an opportunity rather than a threat – you are the expert in your field. And remember that one of the reasons we have to prepare so thoroughly is because it is so hard to get a message to land, or to stick and be memorable in a modern age with so many diverse communication channels for audiences. Therefore, it is also true that small errors or things not going to plan will also be quickly forgotten and not something you have to dwell on or fear.


Research in the PANDEM-2 project has conclusively shown that effective communication helps maximise public trust in public health guidelines and ultimately, helps stop the spread of infectious disease and save lives. The aim of this handbook is to ensure that communicators have the tools they need to enhance trust in Public Health Authorities.

It sets out practical training material for spokespersons and communicators involved in public health agencies and other Government bodies on what to do and not to do when interacting with the media. By the end of the course, you should feel more prepared to participate in interviews and confident in becoming a trusted source of health information.

Now that you have completed the handbook, we encourage you to save it as a core resource to continuously return to. Furthermore, we would suggest pairing this handbook with additional courses from expert communications agencies available through the PANDEM-2 project to enhance and tune your skills. The next step is to go forward and implement the handbook’s tools and resources in your work as a pandemic manager.