Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Media interview smarts: Neil DeGrasse Tyson on prep & managing time

Science communicator Molly McElroy pinged me recently with this tip: "Did you hear Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Fresh Air? I thought of you when he talked about how his "gift" at communicating science isn't a gift. It's hard work...and he gave an example of how he prepared for the Daily Show as an example."

Tyson is a scientist who makes communicating look easy, and it's therefore equally easy to hint that you could never do the same. But he breaks down the hard work involved (good mathematical principle there, to show the work) in this example--and the result is a useful guide to thinking about how to manage your time when you're answering questions in a media interview.
The answer came out of the suggestion that he has a gift for communicating with public audiences. From the show transcript:

....before my first interview on Jon Stewart - you know, that's a tough interview right there, all right, because he's brilliant and he's laden with pop culture referencing. And so I said to myself: If I'm going to have a successful interview with Jon Stewart, I want to study how he talks to his guests. So I sat there and I timed how long he lets you speak before he comes in with some kind of wisecrack or a joke. And what's the average time interval of that? Is it a minute, 90 seconds, 30 seconds? And I would create a rhythm in the parceling of the information I would deliver to him so that a complete thought would come out. So that when he does interrupt, there's a complete thought and then a fun joke, and then there's a resonance to that where you can then move on. Yeah. No, it's not a gift.
Far too many media interviewees approach the interview without a single thought to how long or, really, short their answers will be, let alone creating a rhythm. But it's a smart move. If you work on what it takes to be a good interview guest, you won't be making 15-minute speeches--and you might, then, get called again and again by the reporter or host. Need coaching? Ask for media training from a trainer like me or from your in-house communicator.

For more ideas, check out my 12 tips and resources on answering media interview questions, and 8 things to do in a media interview so you'll get called again. It's no surprise that, after his first well-planned foray on Stewart's show, Tyson has become a frequent and popular guest there. Will you be next?

(Creative Commons photo from Greyhawk68's photostream on Flickr)

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