Beyond PR

Apr 05, 2012

9 Tips on Being a First-Rate Radio Guest

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of nearly 50,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to

Dear Gracie,

I was asked to be a guest on a local radio station, and although I’ve done TV interviews before, I’ve never been interviewed on the radio. What’s different about radio interviews? Any special tips?

Radio Rookie


Dear Radio Rookie,

A dozen ProfNet experts with extensive experience in radio tune in:

1. Preparation: Background on Radio Station

“Take a little time to go to the radio program’s website and read about your interviewer,” says John Angelo, director of radio relations at PremiereTV, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based broadcast publicity services company. The host will appreciate it if you are familiar with the show and audience, especially if you can tailor specifics, like stats, for example, to the audience.

“Listen to the program a few times before appearing,” suggests Susan Tellem, partner at Tellem Grody Public Relations. Find out if the host has any “hot buttons” that you can anticipate.

For example, does the host like to “go off-topic, joke around or get right to business”? says Pam Abrahamsson, vice president of account management at Stephenson Group.

Check the radio station’s blog or Facebook page, or the website’s comments section, to get a sense of what listeners say and feel about the show, suggests Abrahamsson.

Additionally, find out if the interview is live or taped, says Donn Pearlman, president of Donn Pearlman & Associates, who was also a radio and TV journalist for 25 years with WBBM-CBS Chicago, and author of “Breaking Into Broadcasting.”

If the interview is taped, realize that parts of the conversation may be rearranged afterwards, says Alyssa Nightingale, president of Nightingale Public Relations. What a guest says at the end may be put at the beginning, or certain parts might end up being left out entirely. Your words could also gain extra gravitas from the inclusion of music or other effects.

Write your name, title and organization on an index card in print for the host, and hand it to them before the interview starts, suggests Tellem. “If your name is difficult to pronounce, spell it phonetically as well.”

2. Preparation: What to Say

Just because you have the information in your head doesn’t mean you’ll remember all of the important facts on air, says Angelo. “Have some notes laid out in front of you with the most pertinent facts.”

Clients should answer the questions the host asks them, but they shouldn’t feel bound by them either, says Thomas Madden, chairman and CEO of TransMedia Group.

For example, pay attention to current news and trending topics that you might be able to tie in to your interview to make it more relevant and interesting, says Irene Majuk, publicity director of AMACOM Books.

The host wants you to add insight and color, agrees Angelo. Use phrases like “and if I can expand on that,” “on that note” or “you may also be interested to know,” to transition to another point.

If you want to gently disagree with the host, say something like “I can see your point, but you should know…” says Scott Sobel, president of Media & Communications Strategies.

Similarly, if you’re asked an awkward question, try to answer it briefly and then bridge to a better conversation point, says Shel Horowitz, marketing consultant and author of eight books, including “Guerilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet.” Try a response like “that question really takes 20 minutes to answer, but let me talk about this one aspect…” or “you’d think that would be true, but actually…”

“Chances are good that the interviewer will not have read your book, seen your movie or know much about anything you want to talk about,” says Pearlman. “Be prepared to get your points across and steer the interview in that direction.”

But do not make it sound like you’re reading, stresses Angelo. “The interview is meant to sound like a natural dialogue.”

3. Promotional Info

Remember to mention the product or service you are promoting, says David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a PR and political consulting agency. Don’t refer to your product as “it” or “my book,” for example; listeners can’t guess what you’re talking about. Work more detailed descriptions into your responses.

Don’t be reluctant to share too much information, continues Johnson. Some guests mistakenly believe that if they provide listeners with lots of details, then listeners won’t be interested in buying their product. For example, Johnson knows a radio host who once had to stop an interview with an author because every response was “come to my book signing if you want to find out more.”

“Nothing guarantees cutting a radio interview short then failing to give insightful and informative answers,” explains Johnson.

But it is OK however to answer a question briefly and then say “I cover that in more detail in chapter 15 of my latest book,” says Horowitz. There’s a balance.

4. Concise, Simple Words

A common beginner mistake is using big words to prove how smart you are, says Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. If you’re a guest on the radio, it’s already established that you’re an expert of some sort, or you wouldn’t be on the air.

“Use concise, to-the-point language, and make sure your answers are relatively brief,” he continues. If you drone on for a minute, you will lose listeners.

“Speak in plain, simple language that makes it easy for everyone to understand,” adds Angelo.

But never give a yes/no answer, notes Nightingale.

“Have no more than three major messages you want to get across,” says Collins. Tell your story in the first person — people love anecdotes, he says.

You want to leave time for questions, so your responses shouldn’t be more than 15 or 30 seconds at a time, reiterates Madden.

Pearlman suggests keeping responses to two or three sentences at a time, if possible.

5. Descriptive Language

Paint pictures with words, says Collins. “Research indicates that sight accounts for 83 percent of what we learn.”

So instead of saying “About 50,000 people in Maryland have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome,” say “Imagine Oriole Park on opening day, a packed stadium — that’s how many people will be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in Maryland this year.

Additionally, try to include the name of interviewer in at least one of your answers, says Nightingale.

6. Voice Control

Try speaking the information you’d like to get across out loud before the interview, suggests Angelo. “You may find that certain combinations of words are easier read than spoken.”

During the interview, speak loudly and with a deep voice to convey authority, says Johnson.

“Beginners tend to either scream or swallow their words into the mic or telephone,” says Sobel. “Speak in a slightly louder than normal voice and project a bit.”

Supercharge your breathing, voice and how you feel by simply standing up, says Abrahamsson. “Your diaphragm — the key to better breathing and voice control — performs much better when not constricted by sitting down. You will also feel more psychologically ‘on’ when you are standing up.”

“Be sure not to give a monotone, one-note interview,” says Angelo. “Fluctuate your voice.”

People will listen more closely if the guest has an engaging vocal pattern, agrees Jennefer Witter, president of The Boreland Group. Put a “smile” in your voice, she suggests.

“Slow it down,” adds Angelo. “You may need to speak a little slower than you do in your natural conversations.”

Ask for a glass of water to have on hand in case your voice gets dry, adds Tellem.

If you’re on the phone, make sure you are in a secure and quiet place so there isn’t any background noise, suggests Johnson.

Never use a cellphone for an interview, stresses Majuk. Always use a landline.

7. Pauses and Stumbles

Don’t be afraid to pause sometimes, says Angelo. People feel the need to fill space with words like “um,” “uh” or “you know,” but if you speak slowly, you will avoid these.

Rehearsing beforehand also greatly reduces the number of “ums” in an interview, says Witter. Try to get the host’s questions beforehand.

And if you lose your train of thought, that’s OK, says Collins. It shows you’re accessible, humble and human, and gives you and the audience some common ground. Just say something like “I seem to have derailed my train of thought!

Sobel also suggest saying, “Let me restate that so I can be clear,” and then repeating your three main points.

Don’t let any stumbles throw you off, says Witter. Everyone stumbles — even the president! Just act quickly and recover. Make a joke, if appropriate, and then go back to what you were saying.

8. Enthusiasm

“The most important thing to communicate in a radio interview is enthusiasm,” says Madden. “Radio is a personal, intimate medium, and listeners are not only paying attention to what you say, but how you say it.”

Unless it’s a very serious subject, making the message fun can help it stick, says Madden.

Know your host, adds Johnson. “If they joke with you, joke back.”

Remain calm at all times, says Tellem. Sometimes callers, hidden behind anonymity, will say outrageous things. Stick to your message!

Most importantly, enjoy the interview, says Nightingale. The host has chosen you to interview, and has provided a wonderful opportunity to get your message out to the world. “Be courteous, thankful and professional.”

9. Wrapping Up

As the interview is winding down, give out your website and say the title of your product or service, says Horowitz. Ideally, offer something cool on the website so listeners have an incentive to visit. “Your website, of course, should have a domain that’s easy to remember while people are driving.”

If you share a website, make sure the link works, adds Nightingale. And if you are selling a product, be sure to tell listeners where they can buy it too.

“Email the host and producer after the interview, thanking them for the opportunity to be on their show,” says Majuk. “Mention that you hope they will keep you in mind for future interviews.”

“Promote the interview on your website and blog, as well as across your social media platforms,” she adds.

Over and out,


Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Image courtesy of Flickr user andybee21.

2 Comments on Blog Post Title

Tom Maddocks 10:24 EDT on Apr 17, 2012

So many good tips here, almost too many to take in! As someone who runs a lot of media training courses in the UK, my honest view is that if you can do TV you can do radio – though not necessarily the other way around. So Radio Rookie should be fine – the great benefit on radio, as pointed out, is that you can have your key points jotted down in bullet points in front of you, to get you out of trouble in case of ‘brain freeze’ – that’s definitely something you can’t do on TV.

Grace Lavigne 15:58 EDT on Apr 17, 2012

Thanks for sharing Tom — that’s a great point about TV translating to radio but not necessarily the other way around. I’d also add that only on radio can you wear pajamas! Haha OK so hopefully not actually pajamas, but you get my drift 😉

Fill in your details below: