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Take the Lead in an Interview

Posted on July 14, 2014

Ellen Frank (bio) provides the basic rules for speaking with the media.


So the basic rules for talking to the media haven't changed. Be prepared. Know what you want to say irrespective of the questions that are given to you. Before you sit down with an interviewer, whether it's television or radio or print media, know what the four points are that you want to make, and find a way to use the interviewer's questions to make those points. Take the lead for yourself. Don't give the lead to the interviewer. That's really basic.

For television and radio, simple declarative sentences are what's wanted. For print media, nothing is ever off the record. So don't ever say anything to a reporter before the interview starts or after the interview is over unless you want to see it in print. But I think also the world has changed in terms of all the means of communication that we have. And we do see things go "viral" around the world in seconds. So I think we need to think even more carefully about the statements we make because things will be picked up and can go viral on any of a variety of means.

Thinking carefully about how what you say will be perceived by the lay public, but also about how it will be perceived by fellow scientists. So for example, I was at a training this weekend and one of the trainees just kept insisting on, "Well, so you would make this recommendation or you would never use this because..." And I said, "No, no, no, no, no. In research, we're talking about on average. On average, patients who receive treatment A did better than patients who received treatment B. But that doesn't mean that no one in treatment B did well or that treatment B isn't an appropriate treatment for some subset of the individuals who got it."

So being really precise in your language and being really precise in your conclusions I think is important for the lay public but very important for your respectability among other scientists.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2014 Career Development Institute for Psychiatry in Pittsburgh, PA.


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