When you're speaking to members of your community about your school, it is easy to say what's on your mind. If you're a principal or PTA member speaking to the media, that's when things get a little more complicated.
Speaking with the media can be challenging, because nothing is ever really "off the record," even when the reporter says it is.
Whether you are being interviewed on television, radio or for a print publication, it's important to stay on your toes, always speak truthfully and not let your guard down. Among these tips, there are a few other important factors that a school spokesperson should consider.
Do your homework. Before a reporter interviews you, Google that person to find out what other types of stories he or she has done. You can get a good sense for the kind of story the reporter might pursue with you.
Always be truthful. The last thing you want is to be caught on television or radio stumbling over your words because you've been caught in a lie. Sometimes even avoiding the truth can be perceived as dishonesty. If you're not ready to tell the truth, you should probably avoid accepting interviews and issue a blanket statement to your local media.
Prepare in advance. When you coordinate an interview with a reporter, ask ahead of time for sample questions so that you can get an idea of what topics you'll be discussing. The reporter still might throw you a curveball, but if you've prepared for the questions you know will be asked, you'll feel more confident, and that will come across in the interview.
Answer questions that the reporter didn't ask. If you have a set of messages that you are trying to communicate but the reporter or interviewer doesn't ask you a direct question, bring it up yourself. When there is a pause between questions, say something like "Before we change the subject, let me suggest..." or "As we move on, I would also like to add..." If a reporter asks you a challenging question that you are not able to answer, say something to the effect of, "That is an interesting question. I'm not sure about that but what I can tell you is..." This will ensure that you sound informed, even if you don't know an answer on the spot.
Don't let a reporter put words in your mouth. Occasionally, journalists will frame a question the way they want to report something. Make sure that instead of answering in yes or no questions, you make firm, assertive statements that imply expertise and authority on your subject matter.
A social media expert, freelance writer and public relations professional for many high-profile companies, Maris Callahan is the author and publisher of the food blog In Good Taste and the new Chicago online lifestyle magazine My Daily Find Chicago.
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