Saturday, September 22, 2007

Suggested Questions

You may have heard me advise before that to prepare for your interview, you provide (and then practice) eight to ten questions to each media outlet.

I had the opportunity to practice what I preach a week ago when I was interviewed by a radio station in Abilene, Texas. I'm going to speak there Monday, and the sponsoring organization had set up the interview to drive registration for the event.

When you compose your questions, realize that there is no guarantee the host or reporter will ask you the questions. See my list below--the host asked most of them, and added a few of his own. Also, make sure you want to answer the questions you submit. On my radio show, I'll ask questions and the guest will say, "Great question!" I always laugh to myself and think, "It should be--it was one of yours." What gets me is when I ask a question right off the list, and the guest stumbles or acts like he or she has never heard it before.

Here is what I submitted. Maybe it will help you get an idea of questions for your list.

Suggested Questions for Lorri Allen

1. You’re coming to Abilene to help our newsmakers speak more confidently. Do you know who will be attending your session sponsored by the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau?

2. Do you think our newsmakers need some help?

3. You’re speaking to this year’s kickoff of the Abilene Public Relations Organization. This is a neat group. Can visitors attend the meeting?

4. What are some of the most common questions you get about dealing with the news media?

5. What are the biggest problems you see?

6. What advice are you going to offer the students in your audience on the 24th?

7. In addition to helping business owners and community leaders be pro-active with their publicity, I understand you also help organizations having a crisis. Tell us a little about this.

8. Is it true you have special memories of this area?

(Always try to make the last question upbeat, and if you can localize your responses to the coverage area, so much the better. Just don't assume what some of our guests do--that because we are based in Fort Worth, Texas that we only broadcast there. Our audience stretches from Canada to the Gulf Coast.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Heart of An Interviewee

Mellanie True Hills is on a mission to save lives. She is a heart health expert, speaker, coach, author of the award-winning A Woman's Guide to Saving Her Own Life and best-sellers on technology topics, and founder of the American Foundation for Women's Health and its non-profit atrial fibrillation patient resource, For her past interviews and resources for the media, check out her press room and the press room.

Mellanie is doing so much right with the news media that I asked her to answer a few questions to help readers of this blog.

Lorri: Mellanie, you’ve made yourself a resource to reporters so that they come back to you every time there’s a women’s heart issue in the news. How did you create these relationships?

Mellanie: I believe in giving reporters what I'd want if I were in their shoes and in going the extra mile to help them put together the best story possible. Here are some of my philosophies in working with reporters:

· Respond immediately, making myself available whenever is most convenient for them (i.e., weekends, evenings, early, late, etc.)
· Ask what they want to cover and where they want the story to go so I can focus my comments and time with them most effectively
· Be flexible and help the writer shape the story
· Give as much time and information as they want, and provide information, tips, sidebar content, unique insights, and even other resources to round out the story (even sending them to my competitors since there is plenty to go around)
· Point them to my online press room for photos and other resources
· Offer to follow up in the future with new stories or an update for next heart month or stroke month—because of this, we frequently become "old friends" and there are several for whom I've done three, four, and five interviews over the past couple of years

Lorri: As a professional speaker and nice person, you definitely have great conversational skills. Do you have a conversational strategy when it comes to creating soundbites?

Mellanie: You're so kind. Thank you. I think that the sound bites and short stories that work well for speaking audiences also work well for radio, TV, and print, so I use those sound bites and stories in interviews.

In preparing for an interview, just like for a speaking engagement, I ponder what important lessons I've learned that would be valuable for the audience and think through how to make important messages easy to remember. Acronyms are good memory hooks, so I use those when possible, such as "LIFE" to remember the four symptoms of a woman's heart attack and "HEART" for the five simple steps to a healthy heart.

Alliteration also helps, so a favorite that is easy for audiences to remember is "Stress Hijacks Healthy Habits." These make great takeaways that readers and listeners not only remember, but easily share with others. Of course, for radio and TV, it helps to be so comfortable with your sound bites that they just roll off your tongue, especially tongue-twisters, as you don't want to mess up with a live audience.

Lorri: When you’ve been interviewed on TV, radio and for magazine articles, do you feel journalists have been fair?

Mellanie: Yes, they have all been professionals. Of course, when you are coming from a place of giving, with no specific agenda other than to convey information, journalists will usually be quite fair. While it's nice to have a plug for my book, giving the audience life-saving information is what the interview is really about; if they mention my book, which they almost always do, then that's gravy. If you give, true professionals give back.

While journalists have been fair, I can't say the same for bloggers, who usually aren't professional journalists like you. Some are professional, others are not. For some, anything goes, whether true or not. Misguided bloggers can post false and defamatory comments about you, and you have little or no recourse.

For example, one physician who blogs read a press release from our web developer mentioning their work on our non-profit atrial fibrillation patient resource, This physician leveled the completely false accusation in his blog that no patient could possibly understand medical procedures, and thus our site must have been written by the marketing department of a medical device company to skirt current regulations and that I was a pawn of this company. Nothing could be further from the truth – as an informed patient, I researched and wrote every word myself. Professional journalists would have checked their assumptions, but there are no rules for bloggers, so this one posted first, then called, and never admitted to me that he had blogged and leveled these charges. Thank goodness for Google News Alerts for the heads up. I commented at his blog to set the record straight, and he fired back with additional false accusations, which I refuted. He will never admit the mistake, nor apologize for the grief he has caused.

Lorri: What lessons have you learned?

There are many, but here are some of the top ones:

Some national media, such as the women's magazines, can be very difficult to get the attention of, but once you get that big national magazine story, the others are much easier to get. Better Homes and Gardens' Heart-Healthy Living magazine recently featured my story. It included my two brushes with death from heart disease and a near-stroke, my mission to save others from a similar fate, my recent surgery to cure my atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat), and the non-profit atrial fibrillation patient site we recently launched. Now, more national magazines are interviewing me, and that's yielding more calls for speaking engagements. Patience and persistence pay off.

Press releases aren't just for the media anymore. They now serve a general Internet audience as consumers and companies follow them, too, and they turn up in search results. Press releases can yield more attention and web site visitors than some media coverage does.

Sometimes we get impatient to get certain "big" media, and even obsess over it, but I believe that if you build a platform and do good work, the media will come to you. Of course, you have to help it along at the same time by being a good resource and partner with them.

Lorri: What advice would you give others?

Mellanie: Some of these I've said already, but they bear repeating.

Go the extra mile and leverage every opportunity to help the media create awesome stories, including connecting reporters with others that can fill out the story. They will remember you and you may get extra coverage. For example, when the national magazine reporter called for a quote and some information for a sidebar to his story about what can go wrong with the heart, we spent a long time discussing my story, and he found my two heart issues compelling. We subsequently spent a couple of hours with my heart surgeons and did lots of back-and-forth e-mails to answer additional questions and clarify details. I also did two photo shoots and last minute fact-checking. All in all, that was a lot of time invested. Was it worth it? You bet. What started as a small sidebar to a story ended up as a four page feature spread in a national magazine, and I've developed a relationship with the team that puts the magazine together and can take them future ideas.

Be a good resource and build relationships because you never know where your contacts will end up. Focus on helping others, not yourself. Press releases are cheap and effective publicity, especially on the Internet.

Lorri: Do you think media coverage is helping get the word out about women’s heart disease?

Mellanie: Yes, it definitely is. We have come a long way in helping women know that heart disease is the #1 killer of women and that stroke is #3. What's important now is helping women and men take actionable steps to prevent heart disease and stroke and to lead a healthier life.

In addition to continuing to talk about women and heart disease, my new passion is raising awareness of atrial fibrillation, the most common irregular heartbeat. Fortunately I have had surgery to cure this devastating, and sometimes deadly, condition, but I can't just stand on the sidelines and watch others suffer. We've created a non-profit web site for atrial fibrillation patients,, to provide the help they need to control their condition. Doctors, unfortunately, often underestimate the impact of atrial fibrillation on patients' lives, so we're trying to change that as well.

Lorri: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mellanie: I think that being effective at getting the word out about what you do requires being patient and persistent, focusing on relationships with the media, and remembering that it's not about you, it's about others!

Thanks, Lorri, for the opportunity to share what I've learned in my media journey.