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Publicly Speaking:
Notes from the Public Relations Committee

Elin Danien

With the increasing number of local radio and TV talk shows, producers have a constant need for "talent"good conversationalists who can field questions from the host and the audience and be engaging for ten minutes to an hour. At some point, a desperate producer may call your institution and be passed along toyou! Or, you wrap up a field season and return home to discover that you are a sudden (albeit temporary) celebrity, and talk shows are clamoring for you. You may even get a call from the "Today Show."

While you may not have taken "Interview 101" as part of your training, the chances are that somewhere in your career, you will be faced with the red light of a live TV camera, or the dense blackness of a radio microphone. In the abstract, talk shows can be even more unnerving than newspaper interviews. But they are also much more within your control. It's your voice, with your words, going out over the air. No one is rewriting them or rearranging them. How you deal with the situation can turn it to your advantage, or make you swear a vow of silence.

Stage fright can be terrifying. It can also be overcome. Rehearsal helps. Have a friend or colleague play the role of the host, and hold a practice interview. Answer questions, discuss your site, talk about the role of archaeology. Be as wide ranging as possible. If possible, use a tape recorder or a camcorder to review your performance. If not, ask your friend to critique your performance. Are you speaking too quickly? Can you be understood? If this is TV, are you using distracting gestures? Are you frowning?

Keep in mind that the host wants you to be a good interview. Follow his/her lead. Don't use one word answers, but neither should you take off on a nonstop verbal odyssey. Remember that this is supposed to be a dialogue. Use anecdotes wherever possible. Personalize your experience. The audience wants to know how you felt when you found that royal tomb even more than it wants to know about the grave goods. Take them along with you on a vicarious field season. If it's a television interview, bring along a few slides and, if possible, one or two artifacts. Check with the producer in advance, so the studio is prepared.

When writing professional articles, every word should be weighed, every argument augmented with citations. Even a newspaper interview demands a certain amount of caution. But over the airwaves you can be much more nonchalant. It used to be said that yesterday's newspaper was only good for wrapping fish. Yesterday's radio or TV interview doesn't even have that permanence. People will not challenge your every word, more likely, they'll take away an overall impression. It's up to you whether they'll recall the interview with pleasure or with boredom. So relax. Enjoy yourself. And so will everyone else.

Here are some suggestions to help make you comfortable:

At the SAA Annual Meeting, the Public Relations Committee will host a workshop on "The Perks and Pitfalls: How to Make Publicity Work for You." In order to show how to make lemonade out of a lemon, we'd like to know about any sour experiences you may have had with the press. Or perhaps you'd just like to share a good or bad press experience. Please email me at

Elin Danien is chair of the Public Relations Committee.

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