Tips for effective television interviews

Television interviews require you to master body language and be quotable. "Where do I look? What do I do with my hands? The idea of the interview is for it to be like a normal conversation—minus the lights, camera and microphone," says Peggy O’Leary, senior medical reporter for WRDW-TV in North Augusta, SC.

Look at the reporter. "Look at the person you are talking to, not at the camera," says O’Leary.

Keep it short. "If it’s a TV interview, be much more concise, because you may be quoted in a matter of seven or eight seconds," says Nan Tolbert, director of training at Susan Peterson Productions, Inc., based in Washington, DC. "You would rather edit yourself than be edited."

Still, that principle applies even with print interviews. "In a TV interview, you are much more conscious of being concise and giving a soundbite. If you apply those same principles to print interviews, you are much more likely to be quoted accurately," says Tolbert.

Keep it natural. "If you talk with your hands, talk with your hands. Again, act as if you’re having a normal conversation," says O’Leary.

Assume the camera is always on you. "Many times, people will move the camera back to you and you never want to be caught off guard," says Tolbert.

Find out whether the show is live or taped. "When it’s live TV, it can be more challenging, so take your time. Before you answer, take a breath. Feel comfortable pausing before you answer so you can gather your thoughts," Tolbert advises.

Look the part. "Reporters want you to look like you are in the medical field, so leave the white coat or scrubs on. Wear whatever is appropriate to the topic of the interview," says O’Leary.

Don’t dress sloppily or appear to have poor hygiene, says Robert Suter, DO, MHA, FACEP, regional medical director for Questcare Emergency Services in Dallas, TX. "If they are calling you at 4:00 in the afternoon and you have a beard, find a razor and shave, comb your hair, and brush your teeth," he suggests.

You should look appropriate to the situation, Suter notes. "If you’re the physician who just took care of 100 disaster victims, looking like you just stepped out of a beauty salon is probably inappropriate. But the situations where it’s appropriate to look disheveled are very few and far between," he says.

Look presentable. "Sometimes you just cannot get rid of that line on your forehead coming out of surgery, but it doesn’t show up," says O’Leary. "On the other hand, sweat catches the light. If you are in a rush or get nervous and can feel the sweat on your forehead, stop the interview. Wipe your forehead—you will be glad you did and so will the reporter. And reporters probably won’t tell you if you hair is messed up or you have something hanging from your nose. So stop and do a personal check before you see the camera."

Realize your words will be edited. "When it come to being filmed, you never know what they are going to show," says Robert Hockberger, MD, FACEP, chair of the department of emergency medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, CA. "For example, I was once asked to give an interview for a Saturday segment of Entertainment Weekly about the show ER.’ I was filmed for almost an hour, talked about my childhood experiences that got me interested in emergency medicine, and what I liked and didn’t like about the career. I was spliced in for less than five seconds, saying I thought the show ER’ was realistic."