Long before the media will want to talk with you, especially for broadcast, you will need to be well prepared in a variety of ways. As with other types of public speaking, practice as much as you can, including taping yourself to be sure you make your points succinctly. Do some research to understand what type of audience you are addressing and listen to the call-ins if you can — some have online archives — and check out Internet chat about the program. Most radio interviews will be done remotely, so you can consult notes as you talk from your office or home. If you go to the station, bring easily read cards with your not-to-be-forgotten points, since things that should be really easy to remember can slip your mind under pressure.
Someone called radio “theater of the mind” and the best results are achieved when you can stimulate the listener to see what you are talking about with her mind's eye. Vocal dynamics, colorful adjectives, vivid metaphors, anecdotes, memorable phrases, and sparing use of numbers are especially important for this medium. Avoid jargon the audience may not understand.
What if I don't get any calls?
It is not a big deal, since many off-peak-hour talk shows do not expect them. But if you can, have a friend call in to share a related experience or ask a question not on your press list (but only if they can hear the program, since otherwise it may become obvious it is a setup because he does not know what happened during the broadcast).
As media trainer to the stars Joel Roberts (of Joel D. Roberts and Associates in Los Angeles) points out, radio and TV rely on keeping the audience's attention by a back-and-forth conversation between host and guest. It's a tennis match that has to keep moving, so don't give a monologue. Another important quality talk shows look for in guests: strongly held opinions. If you try to offend no one with mushy middle-of-the-road pleasantries, listeners will tune out.
Keep an eye on the clock so that your answers do not go into such detail that the host cuts to a commercial before you can finish your point.
Since listeners may be driving and cannot write anything down, help them recall your organization's name and location or Web site (or ask the station to post it on its Web site and plug that).
On the other hand, many programs want you as a guest not simply to promote your cause or service, but to help the audience, so be clear about how hard you can push: an “infomercial” will alienate the host and the audience.
Offer to be interviewed on standby, in case a scheduled guest cancels at the last minute (it does happen). If you are willing to make yourself available 24/7 they will remember that you are their best bet for an emergency. Conversely, if you get bumped, just say you understand and are eager to reschedule anytime.
A brief, memorable phrase — a sound bite — is the best way for your message to stick in the listeners' minds and stand out from everything else. What you want to do is to summarize your unique offering in a sentence or two, like an ad headline, but you want a number of these to make sure your key points are more likely to be remembered. If you can make your sound bites a little dramatic, fun, or colorful, that will improve the odds of recall. Examples:
Bob's Classic Autos has been in business almost as long as its vintage cars and we have models you can find nowhere else.
Lisa's Hypnotherapy Center guarantees that if you listen to our tapes, you will get rid of your bad habits forever. That includes overeating, drinking too much, and smoking.
If you owe the IRS back taxes on undeclared income, I can cut a deal that will let you sleep soundly again.
As naturalist-philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “You have to shout loud to make the deaf hear.” You should not worry about using hyperbole. Read your sound bites to others and then ask them to repeat them the next day to see what they remember.