How to be a better radio interviewee Compact, coherent answers

A mixing desk in a radio studio; all buttons and knobs and sliders

I’m not claiming to be any sort of expert in the art of being a radio interviewee, but I’ve witnessed good radio interviewees doing their thing, and learned from them.

Early in my career, I had the good fortune to find myself sitting next to Chris Moncrieff, a legendary lobby correspondent for the Press Association. He’d already officially retired, but still kept working as a political reporter and columnist. Chris would often have a short nap at his desk - just a few minutes - but then snap back awake as his phone rang with another scoop.

He was often called on to be a radio pundit. I sat next to him, listening in and marvelling at his skill as an interviewee. He knew exactly what the radio interviewers wanted, and gave them exactly that.

Here’s what I learned from Chris:

Make a whole point with each answer or anecdote

By “a whole point”, I mean something relatively self-contained. Try to give an answer that includes context, alternative opinions, options, maybe a bit of relevant history. But keep it high-level, keep it simple, ditch the detail. If the interviewer wants detail, they’ll ask for it, and ask a follow-up question. Try to keep listeners in mind: think about how you listen to audio interviews. Do you pay full attention? Probably not. Are you usually doing something else at the same time, like cooking or driving? Probably, yes. So keep answers simple and brief, snippet-like, for the benefit of listeners who are only half-listening.

Listen to the questions, and listen to yourself

You want to provide your whole answer, but you don’t want to waffle and ramble. A good answer addresses the question directly with a series of sentences, one following on from the next. It has an ending: a sentence where you sum up or conclude your point. Don’t be afraid to come to an end. Drop the tone of your voice as you do so, to make clear to the interviewer that you’re handing the ball back to them. Don’t worry if there’s a moment of silence. The interviewer is there to worry about filling silence. Whatever you do, don’t ramble on without an ending, until you find yourself mumbling: “… and, so, yeah.” That’s the worst thing you can do.

Tell mini stories within a wider story

This is the hardest skill to master. You might do well with making your answers self-contained, turning each one into a tiny narrative. But they’re probably all interconnected. There’s a thread running through them. If you’re listening carefully to yourself, you might spot ways you can make that thread clearer: create connections back to earlier answers to earlier questions. The better you know your stuff, the easier this will be; but it’s not easy.


None of these techniques come easy. All of them take a lot of practice. But try to keep them in mind and if you end up doing a lot of interviews, they will start to feel more natural.