Good Media Interview Example: A Physician On Robin Williams

In their wonderful book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath offer two ways to describe a pomelo to a person who hasn’t heard of it. 

The first way is to infuse the definition with detail:

“A pomelo is the largest citrus fruit. The rind is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit has a light yellow to coral pink flesh and can vary from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart.”

The second way is to draw an accessible analogy instead:

“A pomelo is basically a supersized grapefruit with a very thick and soft rind.”

The second version works better, they write, because it succeeds in “tapping the existing memory terrain of your audience. You use what’s already there.” Since the audience understands what a grapefruit is, you begin with that, creating a building block that allows you to add another detail that taps into something the learner already knows, then another, then another.

Pomelo via Wikimedia Commons

Too often, I find that physicians and scientists revert to using the first type of definition. They explain whatever they’re talking about in the type of unhelpful detail that leaves an audience confused. So I was delighted when I saw a physician named Devi Nampiaparampil on CNN last week to discuss a new pathology report which found that Robin Williams had been suffering from Lewy body dementia.

Fast forward to 4:54 to see the interview below; alternatively, you can click here to see the interview without having to fast forward.

Dr. Devi did a great job of explaining the science behind Lewy body dementia by drawing upon what viewers already knew. To explain how the brain rewards certain behaviors with the chemical dopamine, she drew an analogy to potty training a child or training a pet.

Whereas many physicians would have started by describing the pomelo—or Lewy body dementia—in great detail, Dr. Devi started with the more helpful version—the “supersized grapefruit” approach. She didn’t focus on her own concerns about coming across as “smart” or “credible” (although she accomplished both), but focused squarely on helping viewers understand the disease in terms that made sense to them.

If you deliver media interviews or speeches that contain similarly complex content, remember to look for an accessible analogy that makes your material immediately understandable to your audience. Once you put that building block in place, it will be easier for you to add complexity—slowly—until you get the audience to exactly where they need to be.

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Editor’s note: Due to the Thanksgiving break, this will be my only post this week. Enjoy your holiday, and see you next week!