This brief guide aims to give you more confidence when being interviewed on behalf of your school or NAHT.
Giving interviews to the press is not easy, but it is important to the association’s wider work to influence policy for the benefit of leaders and learners everywhere.
The advice in this document comes from other school leaders who have been spokespeople for NAHT in the past.
We also include advice from an established public relations company called PLMR, who have trained our officials and policy team.
- Ask for help. NAHT has a press team. It is available 24/7 to help you out (call 07970 907730). Alternatively, contact your employer’s press office
- Prepare. Memorise your messages and examples. You need these messages to be automatic so that you can think about what the interviewer is saying and listen to them
- Practice makes perfect. Rehearse your key lines in the car, in your office or wherever you happen to be. But don’t overdo it; you don’t need to be completely word-perfect or so polished that you sound like a robot
- Presentation, not a conversation. Although it may not feel like it, an interview is not a conversation; it is your chance to use a few minutes of a journalist’s time to present your key messages. Stick to what you’ve prepared and rehearsed. You don’t have to persuade the journalist that you are right – just get your message across
- Get straight to it. Once the interview has begun, you don’t know how long you’ll have, or how many questions they’ll ask you. The interviewer is unlikely to give you a warm-up question – you’ll be straight into it, so make sure the first thing you say is what you’ve prepared.
- Remember. You are in control of what comes out of your mouth
- It’s all good. The news agenda moves on. A good interview will help, but a bad one doesn’t mean the end of the world.
Before the interview
You will almost never see the questions in advance. It’s not worth asking for them, and they could change anyway. And, if you prepare what you want to say, the significance of the questions is reduced. But there are some things you can do.
Ask the journalist the following:
- Who – Which programme or outlet is the interview for?
- What – What do they really want to know about?
- Where – Where should I look? (at the reporter or at the camera?)
- When – Is the interview live, or will it be broadcast later?
- Why – Why do they want you? Will anyone else be interviewed?
There are different kinds of broadcast interview:
- Live – get your messages out early, and set the agenda
- As-live – recorded, but treat it as if it’s live
- Pre-record – it could be a long interview or just a short clip for a report
- Down the line – this is where you’ll use an earpiece or headphones to hear the questions. It can be live or pre-recorded
During the interview
The most effective answers are ones that don’t rely on the interviewer asking you exactly the question you want. It is better for you if the interview is message led, rather than question led. You choose what you say; you are in control.
No matter how aggressive the question, keep calm and carry on. The audience is on your side. Always remember that a journalist is after a headline, not your friendship.
|· Repeat your message, especially if the interview is pre-recorded and is likely to be edited
· Name NAHT if the story is a positive one
· State the obvious – be an expert
· Stop talking when you’ve made your point.
|· Mention that you are repeating yourself
· Name NAHT if the story is negative
· Talk about other people or organisations – leave that to them
· Use jargon
P.R.E.S.S. – Things to bear in mind
Before you do an interview, you must think about what you want to say. If there is a point you want to get across, make a note and take it with you so that you don’t forget to say it during the interview. If you’re doing a radio or newspaper interview, you can keep the notes with you. It’s harder to do that on TV, but TV interviews are generally shorter, and you can keep your notes out of shot in some cases.
The press team will always brief you on what to say if you want them to. We have handy, one-page summaries of agreed language to use when talking about NAHT’s key policy areas. You should try to work in the most appropriate one of these into every interview.
Once you’re ready, it’s easier to relax. Media interviews are not easy, but once you’ve got a few under your belt, you’ll see that they are nothing to be afraid of. If you manage to think about what you should say before the interview happens, risks are minimal. You’re a school leader, not a TV presenter or an actor, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect.
When you’re talking, it’s good to have specific examples to use to make your point. You should always put children and young people at the centre of your thinking when doing an interview. One of the advantages of being a serving school leader is that you will have lots of examples to draw on. Clearly, you won’t reveal the identities of individual pupils, but you can talk about what life is like in your school to bring your argument alive.
Its best to avoid jargon, and you certainly shouldn’t assume that the people watching, reading or listening at home will have an in-depth grasp of the issue you’re talking about. As school leaders, you’re constantly breaking down complicated subjects into language that your pupils will understand. This doesn’t mean talking down to anyone – it’s just about being clear. NAHT’s press releases, statements and briefing notes all try to make our policy points in the clearest language possible. They’re a good basis for your answers to journalists’ questions.
Say it again
In every interview, if you prepare, you’ll have a good idea of the main point you want to make. If you get the chance, make that point a second time as you respond to an interviewer’s question. In a sense, it doesn’t matter what question they’ve asked you. What’s important is that you are in control of what comes out of your mouth, so if you prepare a line, use it again. It helps the audience at home realise what you care about most.
P.R.E.S.S. – What have you got going for you?
Your many years in education are a real asset. You care deeply about what happens to children. When you speak from the heart, your message has real power.
It may not always feel like it, but because you are a school leader, they will treat your views with respect. A journalist may sometimes challenge what you say, but it is rare for them to dismiss what you are saying out of hand. Your views carry weight.
Expertise and experience
As well as a passion for your job, you have lots of expertise and experience to back up the arguments you might be making in your interview. Politicians often won’t have this layer of detail, which can give NAHT an advantage. Your expertise and experience show that you understand what’s really going on in education. Journalists really value that perspective. When you speak from experience, you can never be wrong.
Your experience as a school leader gives you sincerity. You are not making up your arguments for the sake of it or because of some political agenda. Again, journalists really value your point of view because it reflects what is happening in schools and can often show that the messages from the government are false or wide of the mark.
Your role as a school leader means that you have a high status in society. When you speak, people will naturally listen, and most parents listening or watching at home will believe what you say.
Top tips from serving school leaders
- You are never obliged to give a comment or an interview just because a journalist asks you. You can politely decline or defer until you’ve taken advice from NAHT’s press team
- You can use notes to refer to, for both TV and radio
- Have a clear message and stick to it
- ‘Tell it like it is’
- Ask who your interview follows – it might follow an opposing view that frames the story
- The identity of the interviewer is important. Each journalist will have their own agenda or angle. Some will be overtly pro- or anti-government, and some will lack knowledge. Either way, they might throw a question at you that you don’t expect – that’s where your preparation will come in handy
- Interviews for print journalists sometimes provide time, allow you to develop an argument, and can include information sent to the journalist after the interview itself to help them build their piece. But remember, this is not just a conversation – anything you say can end up in print
- In print, it’s possible to ask to check your quote before they use it
- Don’t criticise the decisions made by other school leaders. Instead, steer an interviewer away from specific examples and talk about the issue in general terms. Steer clear of commenting on specific cases where schools and parents disagree
- Don’t take calls from journalists if you’re not happy to do so. Ask to call back, allowing time to consider things to say, or ask NAHT’s press team to handle it for you
- During broadcast interviews, don’t feel that you must fill the silence. This is the interviewer’s job
- Watch and listen to recordings of your interviews. You’ll immediately see or hear if there’s something you don’t like or might do differently next time. This is the best way to improve your technique
- For broadcast interviews, beware that there can be a satellite delay. Don’t answer questions before the interviewer has finished
- Keep your hands still in broadcast interviews – no swooping gestures
- Don’t wear stripes on TV (often they appear strange when broadcast)
- If the interviewer misquotes your school name/NAHT’s name, do not correct them. Instead, use the correct term in your next answer
- Remember to put children and young people at the centre of every message
- Sometimes, your interviewer will be in another studio or down a phone line. Picture the person you are talking to, and speak to them in your normal voice
- Smile, even when on the radio, because this will take the tension out of your voice.
- There is no single right way to do a media interview that will always guarantee success
- Anyone can do a brilliant interview, and everyone will have a bad experience occasionally
- If you bear this guidance in mind, you won’t go far wrong, and you’ll be playing a hugely important role in promoting NAHT’s policies and goals in education
- Don’t sweat afterwards. The interviewer and the audience will have moved onto the next topic. Have a cup of tea and go back to work!
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