TV Tips for Historians


Michelle Emick Ronholm has spent more than 15 years in communications, creating and implementing outreach campaigns for a variety of education and health clients, including PBS, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Currently, she assists historians in expanding the reach of their work through public outreach, media relations, and policymaker engagement.

Television Interview Primer

Television interviews are an excellent way to share history with a large and diverse audience. Journalists, working on segments that require historical context, are often on tight deadline. They they want smart information, relevant facts, and good quotes from a reliable source. That’s you.

Whether it’s your first time under the lights or you’re a TV veteran, following are some topline tips for maximizing your on-camera opportunities.

Before the interview

Prep with the Reporter. You will have a point of contact at the news outlet. Sometimes it’s the reporter who will be doing the interview, sometimes it’s another member of the team charged with coordinating logistics. Don’t shy away from asking questions, including: Is this an in-person or remote interview? Who else is being interviewed? Who is the audience? How long will the interview take? When will the segment air? The more you know in advance, the better you will be able to prepare and the more confident you’ll feel when the camera starts rolling.

Prepare your message. Prepare your key messages, but don’t memorize a script. Your objective is to be natural and conversational. Avoid jargon and arcane references. Keep sentences short and simple. The average soundbite is 10-20 seconds, so you’ll want to communicate messages that quickly. Draw people to you with interesting anecdotes and real-life examples. Your interview will be reaching an audience that might largely be unaware of your area of expertise. Give them every reason to listen and understand what you have to say.

Get some sleep. A good night’s rest the night before your interview will enable you to look and perform your best while on camera.

During the interview

Use Your Talking Points. Once those cameras start rolling, it’s a new conversation. No matter how often you’ve spoken with the reporter behind the scenes, the television audience hasn’t heard from you yet. Use the messaging that you’ve prepared and answer the reporter’s questions as if you’re hearing them for the first time. If you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, a simple, “I’m not familiar with that, but…” will help you transition back to your area of expertise.

Work with the Camera. Focus your attention on the reporter, not the camera. Take a deep breath and smile. Pause before answering questions. It calms the nerves and you will appear thoughtful and engaged in the conversation. Hand gestures, nodding your head, and smiling are all components of an effective interview.

Remote interviews are a little trickier because the reporter will be speaking to you through an earpiece and you will be speaking to a camera. Speak to the camera as if it were a person, or better yet, cast your gaze on the camera operator. To avoid potentially embarrassing situations, assume that the camera is rolling and the mic is “hot” at all times.

Choose clothing wisely. Dress professionally in clothes that fit properly. Go for solid colors, as patterns can cause a vibrating effect on-screen. Keep jewelry simple to avoid distracting light reflections and noise. Lapels and collars are helpful for providing a place to attach a lavalier microphone.

Have a great ending. Often reporters will end an interview with an open-ended question. “Is there anything else you would like to say?” This is a great question for both the reporter and for you. Reporters know they may have missed something, so they’re giving you a chance to bring it up. And this gives you a final chance to clearly drive home your own message. Be ready with a strong answer to this question. It’s a great way to wrap things up.

After the Interview

Send thank you notes. Thank the reporter and anyone else who provided particular assistance to you during the interview process.

Share your work. Let your professional network know you’ve done the interview and when it is slated to air. Once the segment airs, share the clip. Social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube offer easy ways to expand the reach of your work.


For more information, Michelle can be reached at or 202-870-8549.

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