We’re a week out from Election Day. I voted early and as I was leaving I noticed a camera crew getting set up. News outlets are going to be looking for people to help bring some context and perspective to the election. They’re going to want smart information, relevant facts, and good quotes from reliable sources. Who better to serve in this role than historians?
A while back I created a primer on television interviewing as part of the History Communications project. A lot of what is there is relevant here as well, but for this post, I want to talk about the impromptu interview. Would you be ready if a reporter walked up to you on the sidewalk, camera rolling? Here are some ways you can be prepared for those unexpected, yet oh-so-critical, on-the-spot interviews.
Prepare your message. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about the elections. What do you want people to know about these midterms? Pick three things and create some talking points around them. And keep ‘em short. The average sound bite clocks in at around 10 - 20 seconds. Have in mind real life examples and anecdotes to help bring your messages to life. If you can make it local, even better. And if you’re asked a question you don’t know how to answer, don’t fret. A simple, “I’m not able to comment on that, but…” can help you transition back to what you know best.
Work with your surroundings. If a camera is in involved, bring in the scene around you by gesturing to a crowd or a local landmark. Focus on the reporter (not the camera), smile and pause to catch your breath before speaking. You’ll appear calm and earnestly engaged in the conversation, even if you feel nervous. Did a radio station pull you aside? Describe the location, talk about the energy around you.
Enjoy the experience. You’re informing the electorate. You have knowledge and context that will make smarter voters. You have the power to energize people to become active in our democracy. Feel good about the contribution you are making to your community.
I’ve centered these tips around person-on-the-street interviews focused on the election, but they are applicable to any time you might be called upon for an impromptu interview. And that could be any time. The more we have historians in the news, providing smart, thoughtful, accessible information, the better. Thank you for being there.