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Tips for Taking on Tough Talk Radio
How to best handle the hot seat when the host turns mean.
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 by Marsha Friedman
EMSI Public Relations

Marsha FriedmanWhat makes good talk radio? Often, it’s a good argument – just the thing a
lot of first-time guests hope
to avoid.

They hear shock jocks like Howard Stern or commentator Bill O’Reilly try to skewer interviewees with pointed questions and they want no part of it.

“Please find me talk show hosts who agree with my point of view,” our clients frequently ask.

The trouble with that is, preaching to the choir doesn’t make for memorable entertainment in most show formats. And if the audience doesn’t remember you, what have you accomplished?

I’ve been on both sides of the microphone, so I understand the value of a robust debate – and the trepidation of guests afraid they’ll be lobbed a live grenade instead of a polite question. But people go head-to-head with talk show hosts every day and emerge smiling with all their body parts intact. How? They’re prepared.

I asked our senior campaign manager, Alex Hinojosa, to help prepare you with some tricks for holding your own – and even gaining the advantage – when a show host decides to stir things up during an interview. Alex is especially well-qualified; he’s been that snarky talk show host on national and major-market shows for more than 15 years.

Here’s what he had to say:

• Make it a conversation. During the interview, don’t picture yourself on a stage orAlex Hinojosa as a voice blaring from car stereo speakers. Instead, picture yourself having a conversation with the host. Talk to him or her like you’re sitting in your living room together. Believe me;if you feel like you’re being attacked, it makes it much easier to react naturally. I’ve had many clients tell me that once they understood this, interviews were a piece of cake no matter what the host pulled.

• Boil down your thoughts to three to five general bullet points. These will be the messages you want to get across, the information that will be the most valuable to the listeners. (Note: I know the message most valuable to you is “buy my book/product,” but a sales pitch is not what the audience wants to hear. Give them something they can use, learn from or laugh about and they’ll be more likely to remember you.) Write your bullet points on a piece of paper and have it in front of you during the interview. That way, if you blank or get sidetracked, you can quickly get right back on your topic.

• If you don’t know, don’t bluff. If a host asks a question you can’t answer or cites a report, event orstatistic you’re not familiar with, be honest and say so. Then go right back to your bullet points and steer the conversation to your message.

• Any information publically available about you is fair game. Google search your name and see what pops up: Anything you can easily find, the show host can, too. He or she may ask about information in your bio (“So, you worked for BP Oil. Have they always been completely irresponsible?”). Or the DUI from 10 years ago, found in a Google search, may come up. You won’t be caught off guard if you’ve thought about the possibilities.

• Get some media coaching. Look for someone with plenty of experience as a show host and if you’re worried about particular questions, ask for help preparing answers. The coach can give you a good idea what to expect, run through a mock interviewand give you tips to polish your delivery. If you feel at all insecure, media coaching will boost your confidence and you’ll sound much more relaxed during that first interview.

Alex makes it sound easy, doesn’t he? And it is – if you remember the three P’s: preparation, practice and passion.

Where does passion come in, you ask? That’s how strongly you feel about your message. We tell our clients to focus on what’s closest to their hearts when they’re on the air and they’ll have no problem delivering their message, or defending it.

Now that you’re ready for radio, get out there and enjoy it. And, if you happen to get in an on-air debate, remember, that’s entertainment!

Marsha Friedman is a 21-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations, a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms.

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