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Communicating broadly: public and media

Basic skills needed for media and public outreach

  • A willingness to hold a two-way conversation
  • The ability to adjust your language and share your knowledge and point of view in a way that will allow others to interact and engage with you.

Working with the Media

Journalists are always on the lookout for stories. They are interested in:

  • Expert opinion on the issues of the day;
  • Interesting research;
  • Activities and outreach that connect the University with the larger Montreal/Quebec communities.

Media timelines and working conditions

  • Media work on very tight deadlines. Please get back to them as quickly as possible. Journalists can be assigned a news story at 10 am and be expected to file by noon.  But if you aren’t able to do the interview within the time they specify, tell them when you will be free to talk and they may be able to adjust.
  • Often a single journalist will produce web, TV and print or radio pieces so they may want to both film and record you.

Preparing

  • If you need time to collect your thoughts before responding to a journalist’s questions, feel free to tell them that you will call them back within a (specified) short time. 
  • Focus on three to five key points and practice getting them across in short, evocative sentences. Find an anecdote or a simple metaphor to illustrate what you mean.
  • Choose language that will be understood by a general audience. This means using both terms and examples that will be accessible. E.g., "The pulsar we discovered spins 500 times faster than the blades of a kitchen blender."
  • For sensitive issues, request interview questions ahead of time. Without rehearsing your answers word for word, it is a good idea to prepare your ideas and responses to difficult questions that may come up.
  • For TV cameras wear comfortable clothes in solid shades and a minimum of jewelry or anything else that might distract the viewer's eye. Dark colours are best.

During the presentation or interview

  • If you don't know something, say so in a friendly way.
  • State important facts first and remember your key points.
  • Use short anecdotes or metaphors to illustrate your ideas.
  • Speak in conversational terms, be brief and non-technical. Keep in mind that 10-second sound bites are the building blocks of TV news stories.
  • For radio call-in shows, have blank paper ready to make notes while the caller is speaking. Be ready to signal to the host that you're prepared to comment or answer the question.
  • Never speak off the record and assume that everything you say from the moment the conversation starts could be quoted. Correct the record if the reporter has wrong information.

The info [dot] communications [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Media Relations Office) is happy to help with further suggestions, training and support.