Having more than fifteen years of media experience as spokesperson for the food, grocery and healthcare industries, as well as a state media rep and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, I have done literally hundreds of live TV interviews (plus plenty of radio and print). And I have, therefore, had my fair share of media nightmares. I guess it just comes with the territory. With so much prep work involved and yet so much beyond your actual control, it can end up being a recipe for disaster! But I don’t want that to deter YOU (RDs) from getting YOUR voice out into the media! We need more dietitians out there sharing credible, meaningful and useful information with the public! So, I’m sharing a few stories that I hope will make you laugh, but also learn a few things, too.
My most recent media nightmare was a couple of weeks ago when my 5 year old son stayed home sick from school and I (working from home) had to call into a live radio show for an hour-long interview. Just as I was being introduced, my son started throwing up. Poor little guy. Luckily, I had emailed the host, Ellen Briggs, a few minutes earlier letting her know this might happen and she was very nice and understanding, which put me right at ease. If you listen to the interview you will hear me sort of laughing when the host introduces me because I’m thinking – what else can I do but laugh?
Over the years I’ve had various other nightmares. I’ve had both a refrigerator and an oven go kaput on me the night before a segment (two different occasions) which makes food storage and prep a bit challenging, to say the least. I had to learn how to make fake ice cream after watching my props melt under the hot lights on the set during a July Ice Cream Month campaign. I had a famous radio shock-jock make disgustingly inappropriate remarks during an interview. This is the only time that being “speechless” can actually work in your favor. I once had a TV station ask me to do a segment on very short notice because they had a guest cancel. I agreed to do it only if the producer was informed that I had been on their station just a few days earlier and the topic they asked me to do was similar. I would make sure that the food, props, messages were entirely different. I stayed up nearly all night preparing everything. The next morning, after the segment, the producer was furious that I did “the same segment” I had done a few days earlier. But the only similarity was “me” and the particular food group they asked me to focus on.
There are worse stories I could share, but if I did, I’d have to kill you! But seriously, I hope you enjoy these media nightmare stories from other RDs who are out there making a difference! And stay tuned until the end where I share key takeaways and tips for making the most of your media interviews!
I went to the local TV station to do a recipe segment. I arrive and the only thing they have provided me with is a very small (2 foot diameter) round table for me to prepare an entire breakfast meal with. Talk about no counter space! Luckily I was able to seek out a small cart and place a table cloth over it. I then proceeded to organize my ingredients, electric skillet and props in the most efficient manner possible. You can view the video here to see how I made it work.
Karen Ansel, MS, RDN
Sound Bites Interview: A Passion for Writing Leads to Articles in Major Magazines
While working on a nutrition piece for a health magazine, my editor kept coming back to me requesting more and more interviews, many with the nation’s top nutrition authorities. After all was said and done, I interviewed 14 experts for a 1,400 word piece which is pretty unheard of. By the time the piece was edited the number of experts that were actually quoted was cut down to 3 and I had to go back and explain to almost all of the experts, many of whom I had re-interviewed several times to get even more info for the piece, that their tips weren’t going to be used. Embarrassing and frustrating!
I was doing a live TV interview in Denver. The guests to follow me were the Flying Elvis team. As I was talking one of them tripped over a cable and there was this huge distraction. But I kept my focus on the interview and those 3 main messages! Elvis had not left the building but I was laughing as I did!
Mary Lee Chin prepped me for they interview and she loves to tell this story!
Mary Lee Chin, MS, RD
LinkedIn: Mary Lee Chin
Judy is being too modest.
A not-live camera was tilting and falling. One of the Flying Elvis went to catch it, tripped on a cable and went skidding across the stage on his butt. Since he was low, and Judy behind a counter, the audience did not see it, but everyone in the studio set was cracking up with laughter, including the cameramen, anchors, weatherman and other Flying Elvis’. And Judy..Judy just keeps on messaging…!
As for my own media nightmare….My very first interview was on Blinky’s Fun Club where a clown introduced morning cartoons. Invited to demo a good snack for Diabetes Month. For some reason I thought berries layered with cottage cheese in a parfait glass would be good. The lights were hot, my hand was shaking, my glasses kept slipping down my nose and I kept pushing them up. By end of segment managed to encase the right side of face with cottage cheese.
I have two experiences to share…..
When I was 29 years old, the late Dr. Robert Atkins hit me on live TV. I had been chosen by the Chicago Dietetic Association to serve as a panelist debating the best way to lose weight. I was in the middle of two doctors: Dr. Atkins and a Chicago-based physician whose name I no longer remember. During our debate, when I disagreed with Dr. Atkins, he got so mad he shoved me in the shoulder. I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do: Ignore what just happened or call attention to it? I chose to ignore it but in retrospect, I should have asked him why he had to hurt me.
On the morning I was on the Oprah Show to discuss hydration, the producers reviewed most of the talking points with me. But they told me I didn’t have to worry about her first question concerning the functions of water. This was because the answer would be on the teleprompter and I could simply read it. So when the interview kicked off with Oprah asking me why drinking enough water was so important, I looked to the teleprompter for the answers. The teleprompter was BLANK – and so was my mind! Not only could I not come up with just one function of water in the body, I couldn’t think of one thing to say! Of course, the teleprompter Oprah had in front of her had all the answers, so she read them. Luckily, the show was recorded. When it aired three weeks later, the interview’s beginning had been so seamlessly edited, nobody could tell what had happened. P.S. The rest of the interview went great and I made Oprah and the audience laugh a lot.
Takeaways: Expect the unexpected.
Sheryl Lozicki, RD, MBA
I was supposed to show up at the TV station at 6:00 PM for a 6:15 live segment on Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban law. I showed up at 5:45, introduced myself to the front desk and they told me to sit down and they’d call me up. I had done 2 previous segments at this station so felt pretty comfortable about the warmup. At 6PM I reminded them I was going on at 6:15. At 6:10, still no call up, 6:11, 6:12, 6:13… and then they called down asking where I was? I literally ran up the stairwell, shook the hand of the newscaster and sat down in the chair only for him to say the other newscaster was airing this segment. So I literally said “well then”, shook his hand and walked over to the other newscaster, complimented her on her shoes and the segment began in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 seconds literally. Sometimes an adrenaline rush brings out the best in a 5 minute segment.
Rachel Begun, MS, RD
Sound Bites Interview: Getting to Know the Gluten Free RD: Rachel’s Only Just Begun
I was all set to go for a TV interview with ABC News (national) for a story about holiday overeating. I got to the ABC studios in NYC in a great dress and was ready to head out to shoot in Central Park in NYC on an unseasonably warm and sunny day in November.
Well, the great dress I had on provided no access for clipping on my microphone (the transmitter box that usually gets clipped behind your back). No lapels, no waist band, no nothing. We tried to clip the mic to the back portion of the neck of my dress, but no luck. The only option was to clip it to the top of my tights, going through the side zipper of my dress.
We may have figured out how to do this, but we were in the middle of Central Park with no place for me to change. Of course, I was with a male reporter and male camera man.
I walked to the Le Pain Quotidien by The Meadow in Central Park to access a bathroom, but when I got there there was no bathroom!! I had to find a quiet corner to covertly unzip my dress and somehow clip the mic to the top of my tights and then close the zipper around the cord of the mic.
The reporter and camera man were great about it, and we all had many good laughs, but I was mortified! Needless to say, I will never wear that dress again for a TV interview!
Kathleen Searles, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN
Back sometime around 1984 I was on a live radio show about the Dietary Guidelines. Out of nowhere the radio host asked if Olympic Skater Scott Hamilton was so small because of malnutrition. Fortunately I had been watching the Olympics non-stop. They used to do these spots called “Up Close and Personal” or something like that, and I had seen the one talking about Hamilton’s childhood illness, so I had something to say. I was seconds short of dead air time and a big “Ummmmm.”
More recently I did a taped TV segment…I had asked the host (an RD) not to talk about omega-3 fats because I was not up to date on them, but somehow it came up anyway and I listed avocado as a good source of omega-3’s…fortunately the host was quick and just mildly corrected my misstatement, rolling it in under “healthy fats.”
Emma Fogt, RD, MS, MBA, LDN
I was doing a live segment on kids and exercise. I reached up to show a stretching move…lo and behold despite antiperspirant…major sweat marks under each of my arm pits seen through my t-shirt as big dark circles. Solution? Stick paper towel, or even better, thin pads under each arm.
I have a regular segment on my local NBC Affiliate Station, KTAL. Being pregnant when I ‘landed’ the segment, I was sure to have everything taken care of when out on maternity leave. My due date was 12/25, induction scheduled on 12/19, and my last segment was scheduled for 12/16, a ‘Healthy Holiday’ segment. (keep in mind my last checkup on Thursday the doctor was ‘Oh you look great for your delivery date).’ Waking up at 4am that morning (my segments are at 6), I pretty much knew ‘Yep, going into labor today.’ I figured I had some ‘time to pass’ because I was not contracting, just feeling like ‘today is the day.’ I went to the station early, only to be pushed back to 6:30 instead of 6am (never happened before!). 6am I started the countdown – contractions are about 15 min apart. I kept telling myself ‘I’m ok. I can do this.’ Yes, I did the segment! Don’t ask me what I said or did! I don’t remember! I left the station so quick – drove home (only about 10 min away) – told husband to meet me at labor and delivery – and had my son before lunch!
Not really a nightmare, but was so happy my son was so kind as to politely wait till my segment was done. And of course when I returned one of the reporters mentioned ‘Yeah, you looked like you were going to pop that day!’
Once upon a time I did a food demonstration for a diabetic, low sugar
Thanksgiving dinner at a TV station outside Dallas. I brought in all the
food, refrigeration, storage, cookware, everything, because the TV studio
had nothing – and I had to feed all the staff of about 25 after (on my own
budget, no reimbursement).
All was going well until I was to take the red molded low-sugar cranberry
sauce out of the mold – and onto the lovely green tissue paper used for
flowers. What a pretty combination, I thought. Anyway, I had no hot water to
loosen the sauce, it wouldn’t come out, and some leaked onto the green
paper, which began to run.
I was horrified, but kept my cool, put a hand towel in its place to cover it
up and said something like, “At home you want to loosen the mold in a bit of
warm water first, then turn it onto a lovely plate. We won’t do that now.”
This was live TV and no chance to do it over. The rest of the demo turned
out great, and the staff loved the food!
I learned a lot and helped viewers. Getting an assistant, perhaps a student,
might have been helpful too. Plus I had to drive a long way and do all the
cleanup myself. Somehow I did whatever it took to market good nutrition to
interested viewers, so it all seemed worth it!
My very first television interview was on the subject of cancer at a local cable access show. They said they would take care of my make-up. I didn’t realize that the blazer I grabbed did not match my pants. The make-up “artist” had applied a red lipstick and had used a foundation that was lighter than my skin tone. No mirror! I was so nervous that I smiled throughout the entire interview, even when I was sharing fairly depressing stats on cancer. Upon viewing the tape at home, my bother-in-law said, “You look like the Joker from Batman.”
I have waited my entire career for that “call” from the great and powerful Dr Oz show. Well, wouldn’t you know it, that call came two weeks ago, on a Tuesday, when I was out in California. My husband and I were out there vacationing and he was scheduled to speak at a conference in Seattle late Thursday afternoon. His presentation was on his parents’ history of surviving the holocaust. He had never done this before and it was incredibly important to me to be there to support him. So important that I would have missed the Oz show to be there with him. The Oz producer called the shoot for Friday at noon. I was going to say no but quickly checked the flights to JFK. There was a nonstop redeye leaving at 11pm arriving JFK at 8am. I called the producer back and said “I will be there!” So I flew all through the night (with my dogs and hubby cramped in the back)–and arrived at the studio on time. Not exactly what I would have planned as preparation for the highlight of my career! Here’s the segment:
Staying at a hotel in Austin and up early to be on morning show for book I co-authored with Densie Webb, PhD RD: The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! Called producer at 5:30am to confirm my 7:35 airtime. She said, “What? You’re on at 6:35!” I was still wearing my pajamas. Looked in the mirror, hair looked OK. Called the front desk to ask for “a taxi and my car brought around.” “Why do you need both ma’am?” I needed a taxi because I didn’t have time to figure out how to get to studio and needed my car because my props and plates and books were in the trunk!
OK, had the food for demo in my mini bar- threw it in a bag, got dressed, grabbed my makeup and jumped in the cab. He didn’t know where the station was and barely spoke English. I don’t know Spanish. Called the producer, she gave him directions. It’s now 6am. Put make up on in the taxi. We arrive at studio 6:12.
The taxi driver asks if I want him to wait…and I say YES and in fact can you help me bring everything into the station? He does, I set up my plates hurriedly on a table in the break room of the station. He helps me.
I am rushed to the set and place my plates and the book on a stand on the little table for the demo/interview. It’s now 6:34. I look down at the food and it’s just not right, not really finished. I needed time to put fruit on the cake. But oh well. Then the anchor introduces me and says, “But first we go to Robin Roberts in NYC.” I had 30 seconds!!!!! So I fixed the dessert and BLAM…I was on the air!!!
Interview went well, the food looked good (OK) and the anchor loved the bite he took. The producer thanked me and laughed that I was amazing under pressure.
My adrenalin crashed, I limped back to the break room and there was the taxi driver sitting in a chair where he had been watching the show. He said with wide eyes, “That was good!”
Phew…..lesson folks: Double check your airtime!!
After my first book, Eat Fish, Live Better, came out, I became a spokesperson for National Fisheries Institute, promoting the health benefits of fish and seafood. Just as the tour started, the Alaska oil spill occurred! The tour quickly became one of trouble-shooting about seafood safety, and I certainly hadn’t been expecting that. And years later, on the very day my book tour for Eating Thin for Life began (when I was in NYC to promote it), the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal broke – talk about being upstaged!
I don’t do much media, but occasionally I’m asked to interview for one of the Spanish TV or radio stations. Last year I was invited at the last minute to participate in a recorded TV show with a well-known and very popular host. I accepted because the topic was of interest to me, GMO, and the other 2 guests were an MD and an anti-GMO activist, both of Hispanic descent like me. I completely forgot that my main language at work and at home is English, and that professionally, I know nutrition and nutrition terms in English. Since I’m a native Spanish speaker and fluent in both as far as speaking, writing and reading, I accepted.
The interview started, only for me to realize that I did not know how to properly respond to all the questions in correct Spanish terminology. I had not even realized that I didn’t know the proper acronym or translation for GMO from English to Spanish! It was a very uncomfortable hour with me speaking (to my ears at least) in the Spanish of a foreigner. When I watched myself I knew exactly what was wrong with the words I used and how I used them. Literal translations sound stilted and sounded wrong, not like a native speaker.
I was booked for a Thanksgiving segment for live TV…I’d prepped for all the predictable questions about cooking times/temps but the reporter turned to me and said “How about the Atkins Diet?” Then there was the time I lost power and woke up at 5:15am for a 6:15am slot-25 minutes from home. Ran from the car into the studio and onto the live shot with one minute to spare!
Thank you to each of these Rock Star RDs for sharing their stories and trusting us to laugh with them, not at them. Hopefully you learned a thing or two, like the importance of confirming your air time and perhaps setting more than one alarm. Oh, and doing your OWN makeup just in case. But most of all, I hope you are inspired that RDs can be very cool under pressure and have what it takes to be excellent communicators. I think Ellie Krieger said it best when I interviewed her: “….you prepare and plan as much as you can, but once you’re actually doing the interview it’s best to let go and have fun because then, no matter what, it’s a success….If you’re having fun then everyone else will, too.” I think that approach helps you roll with the punches and can certainly help manage any potential media nightmares.
Having said that, I do want to emphasize the importance of doing a post evaluation of every interview you do. As painful as it might sound, this is a wonderful way to learn. I provide my clients with a media evaluation form that walks them through a step-by-step analysis designed to boost confidence, be more objective and determine where to focus efforts on improving communication skills. In addition, I recommend checking out my “Deconstructing a TV segment” post and my “Food & Props 101” post for helpful tips and tricks to minimize your media prep time and maximize your results. If you’re struggling with getting booked for an interview, then check out my “Pitching Tips from the RD Pros” post. And stay tuned for an upcoming post on “Memorable, Meaningful Messages” where I’ll showcase my “formula” for creating and delivering effective nutrition messages. Finally, if you want a few more laughs – while learning more – check out some of my media clips.
Do YOU have any media nightmares you want to share? Please post a comment below!