Guest Post by Rusty Shelton, managing director, Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists
There are few things more painful than watching or listening to an interview gone bad. For celebrities, those interviews-gone-wrong become the most famous moments of their careers (Tom Cruise bouncing on Oprah’s couch or staring down Matt Lauer).
For unknown or up-and-coming authors, a bad interview is much harder to recover from. In fact, one really bad interview on a major stage can bring a publicity campaign to a grinding halt.
Here are a few of the most popular ways to butcher an interview:
– Call the host by the wrong name
– Remind a Chicago audience how much you love San Diego’s weather
– Start every answer with, “In my book I talk about…”
– Leave your constantly-barking Yorkshire Poodle inside during a live radio spot
– Do a live radio interview from your (crackling) cell phone
On the flipside, a great interview often leads to additional opportunities. Part of your job as an author is to
be prepared to be an entertaining and informative guest. How an author does on the air reflects on the publicist and publishing house as much as it reflects on the author.
At the start of every publicity campaign we run we invite our authors to attend a full-day of media training where we put them through a grueling series of practice interviews (it’s fun to play the combative host), work on sound bytes and have break-out sessions on each media format. Since you can’t be at our offices today, we’re going to do a virtual media training.
You often hear PR professionals say, “Media breeds more media,” which is a phrase used to describe how interviews, reviews, feature stories and other types of coverage for a client typically can lead to more media opportunities. I know from personal experience that the phrase rings true. Recently, a number of our clients have witnessed this media-breeding-media magic at work. Here are a few examples:
– Amy Currie, publicist for Michael Gilbert (author of The Disposable Male ) got a call from MSNBC just days after Gilbert’s op-ed piece ran in the Christian Science Monitor.
–Vicki Courtney (author of Logged On and Tuned Out) was on FOX News shortly after her (very good) appearance aired on CNN Live.
– Philip Carlo (author of The Ice Man) was on The Montel Williams Show a few short weeks after his interview on Larry King Live.
When publicists begin pitching national media outlets for authors, they know the producers will ask for footage of previous interviews. Not only do they want to see the author’s stage presence, but also whether they are entertaining and informative on the air. Previous interviews often serve as “pre-interviews” for additional opportunities.
In each of the examples mentioned above, authors were able to generate additional interest because of how
well they did with their initial booking. What can you do to prepare to go on the air? How can you make the most out of each opportunity you get to interview about your book? Here are some tips for each media format:
– Be succinct. Have a friend/significant other run through a list of 20 sample media questions and practice answering each in 15-30 seconds. It’s not easy to do but with practice you can come up with great sound bytes that communicate your message quickly.
– Listen to or watch the program several times before your interview opportunity. This will allow you to get a feel for the hosts and the format of the show. The internet allows you to be as familiar with local affiliates in Seattle as you are with your hometown stations.
– If you have an upcoming signing or event you are promoting, bring a note card that lists the event details (who, what, when, where.) Hand it over to the producer before the interview and they might post the information on the station’s website, or have the info appear on the bottom of the screen during the interview.
– Bring two copies of your book with you to the interview: one to use on set as a visual during the interview, one to give to the producer. It’s always a good idea to leave a signed copy of your book with the host when you leave the interview as a thank you. It’s a small gesture, but shows your appreciation.
– Send a thank you note to the host after the interview. Each interview you do is an audition for more opportunities, so make sure you do everything you can to build a relationship with the host. Next time he/she needs a source on your topic, they may remember that thank you note.
– If you are not 100% sure that the host’s name is Jack, don’t even try. It’s always a good idea to write the host’s name on a big white board in front of your phone so you don’t forget but one thing to always remember—if you’re not sure, stay away from naming names.
– Never go into an interview without some knowledge of the audience you are talking to. Experienced speakers are the best at this because they know how to tailor their examples to the needs of their audience. Your publicist should give you an interview schedule with details on the program several days in advance. Spend some time researching stats and anecdotes for that particular market and the interview will go extremely well.
– Don’t wear a solid black, solid white or bright red outfit to a television interview because it will make you look either washed out or too dark, depending on your complexion.
– To avoid slouching during the interview and to portray the best body language, try sitting in the middle of your chair verses against the back of the chair. This will help you maintain good posture and makes you look more engaged in your conversation with the host.
Homework assignment: Watch at least five interviews this week and think about what you notice about the interviewee. What are they doing well? Where are they making mistakes?
Today’s extra credit is found over at the P&P blog. Learn what to do when the host isn’t prepared and The Art of the Pre-Interview.
Lisa Tener says
I love the homework. I don’t watch much TV and it was critical both to have the media training and to watch talk shows and dissect what works. I did alot of role playing too.
Also, I suggest wearing solid colors for TV. When I appeared on ABC World News years ago, I didn’t know that and wore a busy patterned suit–UGH. The pattern actually jumped all over the screen and I never felt I could use the interview spot for my media kit because of the distracting outfit–it made me look like I didn’t know what I was doing.
Stick with solids!
Robert England says
Some very good advice, these are things that I would never think of before an interview.
Stephen Monrad says
The being succinct part is going to be tough for me to master. I am going to have to remember that even though I am excited about my work, the interviewer and audiance want to get to the point quickly. I will make a point of practicing responses to obvious interview questions.
Patricia Raskin says
Lisa asked me for a few things I look for when I interview a guest on my “Positive Living” radio show.
They need to be positive, see the opportunity in the obstacle and have a firm belief and passion in their mission. I look for compelling stories, experts with compassion, and articulate expression. Most of all, I think of my listeners and ask myself if this interview will help them improve their life and inspire them.
Thanks, Patricia, I think that re-emphasizes Rusty’s point about knowing the show and host that you’re pitching (or will appear on, have a sense of the audience and tailoring your message to that audience.
Rusty Shelton says
All good comments. Thanks for your thoughts as well, Patricia. Your opinion is the one we need to be paying particularly close attention to!
Kaye Khalsa says
Referring back to day 2, once we have a blog set up, do you recommend posting excerpts from our books if they are not sold yet? How about when they are sold?
Thanks again for all of this incredibly helpful information!!
Posting excerpts on a blog is a great way to get people excited about your book. You might even sell advance copies, but I wouldn’t just post until you have a full-on marketing strategy that makes it clear how you will leverage the blog/excerpts and how all the pieces fit together.
Portland Helmich says
Lisa asked me what I look for when I interview people on my television series, “What’s the Alternative?”, a talk show about natural health and wellness on Veria (www.veria.com).
I look for clarity, succintness, passion, and personality. I seek out people who can bring themselves to the interview, people who listen, and people who can answer questions without going off on tangents that have nothing to do with the topic we’re covering.
I love eloquence, openness, honesty, and people who can “hit the points” without sounding rehearsed. I always seek out people who know how to do give-and-take in conversation. In my mind, the interaction and chemistry between me and the guest is at least as interesting for viewers, if not more, than the topic we’re discussing. I like people who get that.
Angie Breidenbach says
I have had the blessing and opportunity to do a little TV and a lot of radio interviews. I learned on radio to just chat with my friend. Be warm and willing to laugh (appropriately) on the air. Too formal is just plain boring.
For TV I wear something blue or turquoise when possible. Always solid colored. I practice a warm smile and a calm behavior. I also learn where the camera is and look into the lens (unless instructed otherwise as in two community service interviews) in order to talk right to the person watching. Then turn back appropriately to the host. They and the folks on the other side of the lens are in the conversation. Too much focus on either is rude. It’s like leaving someone out of the conversation.
When possible, I make sure to learn what the person looks like. I’ll also meet them before the interview because you get all that fear of the unknown out of your system. But if not, watching or listening to their show is crucial. Just recognizing the sound of the voice takes it out of the unknown realm and into the familiar.
Thanks! I’m also loving the homework.
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Donna Mac says
I’ve been on both sides of the interview couch and these tips are extremely helpful, especially when it comes to preparing. You wouldn’t go into a keynote without rehearsing (sometimes dozens of times!) so don’t consider going into an interview this way either. When passionately responding to a question it’s also important to know how you’ll get “out” of your response–so a good wrap up line is helpful. It can still sound natural and may even be used as a soundbite because it reiterates the topic.
You may also consider giving the host a list of questions and/or topics you’d like to discuss. These will get you thinking of how best to prepare. Initially, this will be more homework for you, but less for the guy/gal running the show!
Karen Hodges says
Thanks for providing us this valuable information. Quite timely for me as I’m starting to prepare for a live radio show on Blog Talk radio in early March.
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