Are We Ready for the Next Big One?

I think we all saw this one coming – the desire of news outlets to connect the most recent foreign disasters (Haiti & Chile) to us in the United States.  This time, after the Chilean earthquake, the most frequently asked question is “Are we ready for the next big one?”  How would you answer that if you were the spokesperson for the state agency responsible for disaster preparedness and response in California?

Today I did several interviews with the media answering that exact question.  So how do I respond?  Well, I thought about the millions of dollars we’ve spent on emergency preparedness… the fire trucks; search and rescue gear; training and excercises; even our latest venture using social media to augment existing alert and warning systems.  But the reality is that our biggest “problem” is peoples lack of individual and family preparedness.  People just don’t take it as seriously as they should – even here in California where we’re always shaking, burning or flooding.

So I decided that we needed to use these opportunities to encourage people to prepare… or, at least, get the media to bite on the idea that if we say “we’re not prepared,” that really means the general public.  Oh, and it’s the truth. We’ve conducted research that shows that people haven’t prepared enough and aren’t motivated to do it until they’re faced with the grim reality of what really happens during disasters – hence, the graphic pictures of Haiti and Chile.  So now’s the time.

Tips to Prepare for a Spontaneous Interview about Current Events

  1. Find out the type of show (news, opinion, entertainment) and what specific topic they’re interested in exploring
  2. Ask who else will be interviewed This helps determine if you’ll be pitted against someone that has an contrary opinion
  3. Now, ask yourself the very simple question, “Why am I doing this interview?” and answer it honestly to yourself.  This helps you focus on the real reason you’re doing it.  (ie – I think we need to encourage people to prepare for earthquakes)
  4. If you have time, read, watch or listen to news broadcasts focusing on the topic and see how they’re covering it.  This allows you to focus your responses in a way that “fits in” rather than risking the appearance you’re a detached government worker with no soul
  5. Develop simple talking points with your message and support them with interesting and relevant facts that will relate to the story they’re covering.
  6. Practice, practice, practice!  I often do it in the car on the way to the interview.  I ask myself the questions I think the reporters are going to ask and then answer them out loud so I can refine the message. This works better than you think.
  7. Relax and realize that you’ll be okay – they can’t reach through the TV and strangle you.  They are hoping you’ll say something interesting, even give unique perspective that will help them make their story interesting to their viewers. On their end, it’s all about ratings and if you’re boring, they’re never asking you back.

These are just a few thoughts I have about how to answer those “trick” questions without being put on your heels. Hope they help.

How do you prepare for spontaneous interviews?  What are your steps to success?  I’d love to read your comments below.

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