How to prep for radio interview & debate?
May 11, 2018 9:23 PM   Subscribe

I started an online petition which is having its intended effect: the (rather large) public organization's head officer I'm petitioning has been invited to a radio show. As have I. I will be sitting across from / debating him. How do I prep?

I don't necessarily want to go into details, but 1) I'm moderately well-spoken 2) our cause is (as much as we all feel) just.

We've amassed a good number of signatures (enough to get media attention). Soon, I'll be sitting across from the main person in charge. He will probably do his best to deflect/minimize/etc.

Do I simply stay on point throughout? Inject humor? Do my best to ask him to commit to the changes we've been requesting? Have witty quotes / one liners memorized?

Should I try to frame it as much as possible as a "you and me are on the same team, we both want the/your org to improve"? Should I be serious? On guard?

None of the above? All? Neither?

Thank you x 10000000!
posted by vert canard to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've helped people with debate prep and we basically put together a dossier of possible questions with answers and then follow-up rebuttals. You want to know your stats and facts, and be prepared for all the different types of questions or counterpoints that may come your way. You can't possibly anticipate every exact question, but you'll want some answers you can pivot to regardless of what is asked. That's why when people prep for presidential debates, they have someone "playing" the opponent who will throw certain attacks, rebuttals, etc. at them to be ready for.

Without knowing the issue or the tone of it, it's hard to tell you whether to try to use humor, finding common ground, or setting an ultimatum. I would say unless you are running for public office and want people to like you, humor might not be the best route. Humor, when it doesn't land, can be awkward or condescending anyway. You will probably be more comfortable if you are just yourself and approach it the way you would in any other scenario. Rather than focusing on how to "play" in the debate, just focus on learning the facts and arguments.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:31 PM on May 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

AppleTurnover's advice is great. I think framing it as "you and I are on the same team" is a savvy move that may disarm the audience and will certainly make the executive look bad if they act uncharitably toward you. I have a few questions for you to consider before the debate:

What is your primary goal for this public debate?
1. To educate the audience about the importance of the changes you want?
2. To get a public commitment to change from the executive?
3. To gain more support for your cause?

Figure out your primary and secondary goals for the debate to help you shape your strategy.

Who is the debate audience?
You win debates by arguing from the perspective of your audience, not yourself. If the audience is made up of people exactly like you, that's not a problem. If it's made up of other types of folks and you need their support, then consider their perspective when determining the type of language to use.

What is the takeaway you want the audience to have at the end?
Make sure you know that going in.

Call for action.
This is an opportunity to publicise your petition, your rebel group, whatever. If your group doesn't have a URL yet go get one and throw up a single landing page with links to the petition and background on the topic. (It could be even.)

That way the radio host can introduce you as Person X representing Then at the beginning of the debate and at the end ask listeners to go to for more info on the topic. IMHO being able to publicise a way to get more people to sign the petition makes the debate a win no matter what else happens.

Practice rebuttals/points out loud.
Don't let yourself be deflected by irrelevant points from the executive or the moderator. Practice, out loud, ways to pivot back to your point. Versions of statements like, "A is worth exploring but we are here to talk about B. Can you commit to (WHATEVER) or Do (WHATEVER)?" "What prevents you from agreeing to do X?" Etc.

Finally, remember "It's the economy, stupid"? People can't track many different elements of an argument. Don't have many elements. Return, over and over, to your strongest point and to the takeaway.

I haven't done debate since high school. Please take this advice with a truckload of salt. Good work on the petition. I wish you all the best!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:17 AM on May 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Are you familiar with the show and the host? Apologies if I sound like I'm teaching you to suck eggs here, but if you aren't already a regular listener my one tip would be to listen back to as many episodes of the programme as you can find - most serious radio stations have old episodes up on their website for a limited period these days.

What's the atmosphere of the show like? Is it sensationalist and combative, or does it give the people and the arguments space to breathe? Does the host butt in to try and whip up the argument, or stay out and let the debate run its course?
posted by winterhill at 3:55 AM on May 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don’t know from formal debate but for arguing your point to a hostile party on the radio:

Do the things - they vary for each of us - that keep you calm. Hearing someone make an impassioned argument that your cause isn’t worth the money/time/violates their beliefs or whatever can be tough. In addition to question prep, prep for their tone, and make sure you’re not The Person Who Gets Upset.

Have talking points and a clear call to action. Make sure you find a way to say them.

Come off as the cooler, smarter, more composed adult among the two of you.
posted by OrangeVelour at 3:56 AM on May 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, if this executive has the power to fix the issue you're worried about, you might be able to do a lot of good with a smile and short pitch to the exec directly before or after the mic is on. You might want to consider preparing this conversation too.
posted by sidek at 6:07 AM on May 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

You know when people ask legal questions on MF and they're told to 'lawyer up'? Well this is the media equivalent - you need to get Media Trained (tm)! I don't know if you have enough time before the interview but even one prep session with a professional media trainer will make a world of a difference.

There's a lot of good advice in this thread, but speaking as someone who has done countless radio, print, newspaper, webinar, live/scripted interviews ranging from hostile to friendly, there is simply no substitute for getting properly trained for this experience by someone who knows what they're doing. People who do well in interviews do not do well because they are well spoken, or their cause is just, they do well because they have been trained, and they have practiced.

Here are some tips and pointers I've learned from years of media interview experience:

- THE MIC IS ALWAYS LIVE! If you are sitting in front of a microphone assume it is ON and BROADCASTING. Don't engage in any small talk in front of the mix before *and* after the interview. For examples of what can go wrong search on Youtube for outtakes of politicians who thought the mic was off. Don't screw up a great interview with a last second comment!

- NEVER LIE! You'd be amazed the number of times interviewees will make up a fact on the spot just to sound convincing, but never say something is true unless you are 100% sure of it. If you don't know the answer to a question don't improv, simply say 'I don't have the answer for that, but how I like to think of the problem is...' and then segue back to your main thematic point.

- NEVER criticise others, or be forced into passing judgement or commentary on a group/company or cause that is not yours. This is a classic misdirection technique that I've had used against me (I didn't fall for it, but I enjoyed their attempts) where they ask you to make a comment on some other topical issue that's adjacent to your area of expertise. Do not do this - say 'I can't comment on company/issue XYZ, I'd rather focus on...' and back to your main point.

- The host may ask the same question multiple times. This is normal. They will not ask the same question more than 3 times on average. So stick to the same answer each time and they'll move on. Unless you're being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, in which case all bets are off.

- Have you been in radio studio before? They're deceptively small, and you'll be seated very close to your opponent with a mic right in your face. You may also have to wear headphones to hear the live stream of your voice. This can be disconcerting, so see if this radio station has a live stream and watch what the studio looks like and how guests are positioned relative to each other, and you to the host.

- Can you bring printed notes/cue cards? Again, referring to the design of the studio you may have a small amount of room on a desk in front of you for some notepaper. BUT - be careful - rustling paper while in an interview sounds terrible and makes you look unprepared.

- Remember; the goal of the radio show is to produce entertaining radio. They do not care about you, your cause, your opponent or your opponent's cause. You are one of probably 5-10 interviews they'll do that they and they will have forgotten you as soon as you walk out the door. I'm not saying this to make you feel bad, but to explain how the host will be thinking during the interview. They're thinking 'Is this entertaining radio?'

- You cannot interrupt the host, but the host can interrupt you at any time. This is the rule of interviewing, you may not like it, but you're going to have to deal with it. The host can interrupt you, or the other guest, as often as they like but never, ever, challenge them on being interrupted. This goes against how we talk in real life, but a radio interview is not real life. The last question asked by the host is the one you must answer.

- Always, always, keep your calm. It sounds obvious, but under probing questions you may get frustrated that they don't see the your point. The host is not attacking you, they're probing your arguments. Mentally separate yourself from the questions and answers. Remember to breath. A slight pause before answering allows your brain to catch up before you blurt out an answer.

- Simple direct answers. A lot of times you'll hear a host ask 'But is X really true?' and the guest will start reaming off statistics, with sidebars before concluding 'X is true'. The audience has tuned out, and the host is likely to interrupt you before you get to your conclusion. Make simple declarative statements and then back them up if challenged. 'Yes, X is true. We see this in studies from A, B and C.'

- Avoid using numbers in statistics, give ranges from everyday like. Don't say 56.7%, say 'over half'. Don't say 78% say '3 out of every 4'. Don't say '1% error range' say 'the chances of getting this wrong are 1 in a hundred!'

- Stories, anecdotes, personal observations are your friend. They add colour and depth to your answers. Give real examples of your case drawn from your personal experience. Don't name names, but talking about how the situation affects real people will make it resonate with the audience.

- Ask the host/producer for the running order of the interview in advance. You are completely entitled to ask how they are going to conduct the interview, what the flow of questions is, what the first question is and who they will ask it to. Only a sleazy host will refuse to answer, or answer and then change course. This is a professional thing to ask, and as professionals they'll give you an answer.

- Speak naturally and normally. Gesticulate with your hands as you would in real life. Look at the host and your opposing guest. Your humanity will be conveyed in your voice and the audience will hear and respect that.

- Most of all - relax and enjoy yourself! Yes, enjoy this! You are making history, your words will make change happen, and by appearing on radio you have cemented your legitimacy as an expert on this topic.

Good luck!
posted by Not on your nellie at 11:46 AM on May 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

I've been on national radio a couple of times this year discussing a potentially troublesome topic.

Lots of good suggestions above, but key for me was practice. Lots of practice interviews. Find your smartest and sharpest friends, let them ask possible questions and see what answers you come up with when you're on the spot. Let them try to trip you up and see if you can respond with grace. Now cut all of your answers down by half and repeat.

Record all of this and listen to yourself. Think of the shortest possible answers that close off troublesome questions before they are asked.

Then practice some more.
posted by happyinmotion at 2:32 AM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thank you, everyone. I feel very lucky to be part of such an amazing community, and to have received such great advice. I reached out to a few of you privately, and have been -- again -- amazed at your generosity and support and help.

I love you all. Thank you very very very very much.

The interview this morning went well. Happy to share links/info over MeMail. I would say that I was hoping for world change to happen in 15 minutes (just have to convince the other side with good arguments, right?) but that I'm now realizing what's obvious to pretty much everyone: change takes time.

Oh well. We'll keep on fighting.

posted by vert canard at 12:00 PM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

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