I interview a lot of people. They’re all professionals in their fields, so you’d think it would be easy to get a great interview. Sometimes, however, it’s surprisingly difficult.
As a writer and a professional, being interviewed is a great way to establish your credibility in your field. This includes appearing on podcasts, radio programs, webinars, and many other venues. Naturally, you’ll get better with experience. But I’m still surprised at how often old pros end up giving bad interviews.
Here are some tips for sounding great when you’re a guest on someone else’s stage.
1. Be prepared. As basic as this sounds, you need to be ready to promote yourself. A “hard sell” is usually inappropriate, but a soft sell is normally expected. That means you have to be ready when asked for basic information. This includes your web site, your social media feeds, and the address of your blog or podcast. In fact, you should email these to your host to make sure they get it right. This also makes it easy for them to include links on their blog when they describe the contents of the podcast.
Being prepared also means that you have an agenda. Even if someone else is answering all the questions, you can work in the answer you want to give. For example, you might mention that your next book addresses this topic, or that your live appearance is next Thursday. Look for opportunities and take them, but make it part of the conversation and not an outright advertisement.
2. Ask some questions before you start. Find out whether the interview is being recorded or whether it’s live. If it’s recorded, that relieves a lot of pressure. In a recording, you can stop and ask to start your answer from the beginning. Also, find out when it will air. Offer to help promote the event. Hosts love that. For many, the promotion by guests is their best advertising.
Ask who the audience is and whether the host wants to focus on a specific topic. Unbeknownst to you, the host may have asked you to be part of the show because she’s trying to make a certain point or present a different perspective. Ask what your role is.
Finally, ask how long your segment is. On a podcast it might be 20 minutes, 40 minutes, or even an hour. With radio, it’s likely to be two or three minutes total. Don’t prepare an hour-long presentation for a ninety-second spot on drive-time radio!
3. Get the sound right. I am amazed at how many people use poor equipment. This might be a poor cell phone signal, a cheap wireless telephone with a weak battery, just about any bluetooth device, or a speaker phone. All those things can make you sound bad. This might result in a very short interview.
I highly recommend a classic, wired phone with a good quality headset. If you have a great cell phone with a great signal, that might be good enough – but only with a high quality wired headset. Bluetooth might sound good to you and sound very bad to the other party. If possible, ask before you go on the air. If you don’t sound great, dial in again and hold the phone to your ear.
4. Practice speaking in sound bites. If you’re new to the world of interviews, simply remember this one rule: An interview is a conversation. That means you need to be interruptible. The host needs to be able to interact with you and ask follow up questions. If you tend to blabber on (no matter how good it is), you need to regulate yourself. Put a clock with a second hand in front of you. Limit answers to no more than 90 seconds. Once the host interjects, even with a statement like “Oh yeah,” or “Uh huh,” then you can go another 90 seconds.
Pauses seem like dead air when you first start. But they are actually a golden opportunity. If you pause and the host pauses, then feel free to start up again. If you pause and the host jumps in with another question, then you’ve made room for them to stay in control of the flow. The worst thing you can do is to ramble on for five minutes without taking a breath. That can be hard to follow and difficult to edit as well.
5. Have some “canned” material you can throw in. This might include particularly good statistics or useful examples. This is a large part of your job as the expert – to give expert analysis and advice. If you have five key points, practice giving them quickly and concisely. Remember, you want to be interruptible and talk in manageable sound bites. So don’t have a list of ten things unless you only want to highlight three of the ten.
Earlier I mentioned that you need to be prepared for really short interviews, especially on the radio. Well, sometimes, you get extra time. So you also need to be able to add an extra three to five minutes. That’s where canned material can be particularly helpful.
6. Leave your ego offline. As strange as it may sound, you don’t have to do any work to make yourself look good in an interview. You’ve been invited because you have something to say. You present your material and the host makes you look like an expert. It’s bad form to outshine the host. So if you spend half an hour talking about how amazing your are, you actually get in the way of your message.
If you look at these tips, you notice one unstated goal: Make the host look good. If you make the host look good, they’ll love you and invite you back. That means you need to be the expert they’re looking for. Play your part. Give them useful information. Then shut up and let the host lead the way.
The more you make the host look good, the more successful you’ll be.
7. Be entertaining. One final note: Podcasts, webinars, and radio programs are edutainment – educational entertainment. You don’t have to be a clown by any means. But you should be interesting to listen to. Prepare some good, quick stories. Be challenging, or humorous, or shocking. Do something that’s different from the other hundreds of hours of broadcasting available at any given moment.
All of this advice goes back to the first tip: Be prepared. Decide how you want to show up. Prepare for it. Be ready for whatever happens. And then go hit a home run. A bad interview can hurt your chances for additional interviews. A good interview can result in even more good interviews.
Now go start preparing for your next opportunity!
Karl W. Palachuk is a business owner, entrepreneur, author, father, speaker, publisher, blogger, podcaster, and a community builder. He has written fifteen books, including Relax Focus Succeed(R) and Publish Your First Book: A Guide to Publishing in the Digital Age. As a professional technology consultant and trainer, Karl has produced hundreds of podcasts and webinars. You can catch up with him at http://www.publishyourfirstbook.com.
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