Thursday, March 29, 2012

Media interview smarts: Explain your process or method

When I'm coaching subject-matter experts for media interviews, they often make the mistake of thinking they need to simplify what they have to say so much that all detail is stripped out of it. Not so, and I think that's especially true when it comes to sharing some of your process or method, whether you're talking about research or a regulation.

Here's the thing: Very little is obvious--and even if it seems to be, reporters still need you to describe it so their readers/listeners/viewers can understand it. A case in point, in book form, can be found in Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics. The two nutrition researchers use the introduction to prominently explain all the reasons that nutrition, and calories, are difficult to research with accuracy. It's a great clear explanation that helps the reader get all the way through the book.

In interviews, there are more volatile reasons to include an explanation of your methods. For example, omitting an explanation of your process may imply you didn't have one, a dangerous thing in a controversy. You'll add to your credibility and that of your company or organization if you take the extra time to make clear the steps you took. Here are some prompts to get you to start sharing more about your process in media interviews:
  • How did you arrive at your findings, decision or choice? If there was a formal process, describe it. Scientists, here's where we want your methodology, and anything else we need to know to understand it. Policy makers, how was the sausage made? If others had to weigh in on a policy matter, share that. Don't assume we know about what went into that tough call on your part, or how you came to your conclusion.
  • What prompts the delay between an issue arising and your action? If you can't assure the safety of city drinking water until the tests come back from the lab, and that takes three days, say so. If accusations have been made but an investigation and a board deliberation have to take place first, describe those steps. When something prompts questions, but your action won't happen immediately, that's not a bad thing--as long as you make clear why.
  • Can you characterize it as a close call, unanimous, or a long and hard-fought debate? When you emerge with a board policy position, weigh in on a public debate on behalf of your members, or take a position based on feedback from your users, characterize the discussion for us--and the reporter. Your process, in this instance, can underscore the variety of views (or singular purpose) reflected by your crowd, and add perspective to a policy.
If you've got a good example where explaining your method made a difference in an interview, share it in the comments....

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