By Chris Adams

When you’re going on TV, think short – not long.

“Your first answer should be your shortest answer,” said Heather Dahl, a TV trainer, producer and author who gave National Press Foundation fellows tips for going on television news or interview programs. Dahl (bio, Twitter) is also a board member and former chair of NPF.

Dahl gave fellows tips both practical and big picture. The most important: Don’t wing it.

“People who don’t do TV think it’s totally easy,” she said. “It’s not.”

Dahl has a general rule: For every five minutes of interview time, do prep work for an hour. Know the interviewer, know the news organization, know the potential questions.

And if you’re asked to go on a more entertainment-themed show – or one that is maybe a little more fringe? Don’t jump though hoops to meet the show’s needs. If you’re not comfortable with the organization or the format, take a pass.

“It’s better to say no than to go out and fall on your face,” she said.

More than anything, she added: Realize that you are doing an interview for an organization that is not paying you. You are there to serve their interests – not the other way around.

Other tips:

  • Rehearse challenging names or terms – scientific jargon, foreign leaders – if it will be necessary to say them on air. Better yet: Devise answers that don’t contain the tongue twisters.
  • Know what you want to say. “Tell yourself, ‘When I walk out of that room, I have going to have delivered these three points,’ ” she said.
  • Prepare your clothing and have some ready to go for last-minute bookings. Clothing counts. Keep it simple: not bold, no jangling bracelets, no cardigans.
  • Remember that everything you do or say could be picked up by a microphone or studio staff.
  • Once on set, sit on the edge of the chair – but don’t swivel it. Sit on your upper thighs, feeling the weight of your feet; if your feet are dangling, lower your seat or ask for a stool to rest your feet on.
  • Avoid verbal ticks, such as starting sentences with “Yeah …” or dropping “like” into sentences.