Following the article’s publication in the theatre programme, I was unexpectedly contacted by a BBC producer and asked to discuss Mabel Normand on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Despite serious nerves at the prospect of speaking on national radio, I said yes. Fortunately, the producer, Louise, was very supportive throughout my week of preparation. Louise spoke to me twice prior to the interview to consider different approaches to understanding Mabel’s work, to inform me about my co-panellist (Mabel’s great-nephew, Stephen Normand) and to prepare the interview questions. Our conversations not only helped me rehearse my ideas, but also made me feel involved in the process.
On the day, I went to Broadcasting House—an exciting day out even without the interview—and spent the morning chatting to Stephen in the Woman’s Hour green room. His stories about Mabel and her silent film co-stars were wonderful and I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear his reminiscences and help him bring Mabel's prioneering work to the public's attention. The time passed too quickly while I listened to his stories and we were soon called into the studio. You can hear us by clicking here and, based on my experience, I’ve made some suggestions below about preparing for, and carrying out, radio interviews.
Be prepared: some might say that I over-prepared for the interview. I spent a few hours going over my research and reading additional, secondary sources to ensure I had covered different perspectives on Mabel and her work (including Stephen’s writing). I also surveyed recent work on women in silent film, as I knew the topic would offer context for the interview. Of course, in a ten-minute interview there was not time to talk in detail about the subject. However, my preparation made me feel confident and I felt it was worthwhile.
Speak to the producer and ask questions: discussing my ideas and potential questions with Louise in advance of the interview made me relaxed. In addition, I felt that I was helping shape the conversation, which made the interview more comfortable and less like an exam! I also asked numerous questions about the process (where would I be going, would we be in the same room, etc.), and receiving the answers prior to the event gave me reassurance.
Treat the interview like a conversation with a friend: sitting in the studio opposite Jenni Murray (Dame Jenni Murray, one of two regular presenters on the show) was intimidating at first, and never more so than just before we went on air, when I realised how many people I’d be speaking to: major panic ensued. Here are my tips for getting over the nerves and participating in an interview.
- Don’t speak to the listeners; speak to your interviewer. When Jenni spoke to me I made eye contact with her and answered her questions as if we were having a casual chat. I tried to focus on the three of us around the table and the whole thing seemed conversational. I’m sure this improves your delivery, too.
- Body language is (probably) important. Admittedly I don’t have any evidence for this, but I suspect that your body language alters your tone and delivery. Once I relaxed, I found I was leaning forward, nodding, smiling at Stephen’s responses and making eye contact with Stephen and Jenni – just like I would in an ordinary conversation. I’m convinced that in doing so your answers sound warmer and more intimate.
- Consider your response and don’t rush. Although you don’t want to speak too slowly or with too many pauses, you do want people to follow what you’re saying. Try to be concise and deliver one clear point in response to each question.
- Make cue cards as prompts but don’t have full notes. The producer won’t want you to read out pre-prepared answers, as you won’t sound natural on the radio. However, I was allowed to have a page of key names, dates and a couple of bullet points next to me. I didn’t think I’d need to use it, but there was a moment when my mind went completely blank and having a cue came in very handy!
- Enjoy the experience. It’s not every day you get asked to share your research interests with a large, non-academic audience. To use a Harry Potter analogy, a media interview makes you feel a bit like Mr Weasley being asked by wizards to talk about Muggles (it’s a rare opportunity). So let yourself be excited, tell friends and family to listen out for you, and share your passion for your subject with anyone and everyone who’ll listen. And if you visit Broadcasting House ask to keep your visitor’s badge – apparently they’re used to people wanting a souvenir.