Bad Interviews – Don’t Let This Happen To You

Moon and fall leaves turning

I watched one of the most painful interviews I’ve ever seen the other day. Painful because it was so clear the guest wasn’t ready to discuss the topic and clearly hadn’t been trained on how to do interviews. He had the credentials and the expertise to write the book, but discussing the ideas contained within is a different skill set.

Of course, you don’t know what you don’t know, but showing up and winging it is just a bad plan, yet some people do exactly that. So I’ll say it here: Don’t show up for an interview, whether it’s online or in person, hoping for the best. It won’t be your best.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but the easier the guest makes it seem to do an interview, the more training and experience they’ve had. There may occasionally be an exception to this, but I’m only adding that to acknowledge the possibility of outliers, not because I’ve actually seen one. It does not come naturally. No one is born with this kind of skill.

What can you do to ensure you have great interviews? What can you do to make sure you don’t come across as unskilled, and therefore not credible?

One word:


Practice, by the way, is the answer to just about anything. If you want to get better at dancing, social media posting, writing poetry, public speaking, playing the piano, or anything else, then practice you must. But before you practice, you have to know the fundamentals that go into it, so let’s cover them, beginning with…

Knowing your key message backwards and forwards

As I said before, I’ve worked with people who thought they could just wing it doing interviews, at least initially, until they realized that their answers were different each time they responded and they lacked a consistent message. Before you improvise even just a little bit, you have to burn the main message solidly into your psyche so that you never get lost and it’s easy to bring it back to your main messages.

Have a launch ready to go

Launching an interview is the first 45 seconds to one minute after the host asks you the first question: mission critical. This is the time when each audience member decides if they’re going to hang around to hear the second question. This is your opportunity to sell it and be compelling as well as giving an overview of what the interview will consist of. This is the time to point out the problem, how bad it got, your epiphany, the steps you took to change it, and how wonderful things are now.

Watch other interviews

Before you do any interviews, watch other people being interviewed. We learn by watching others, something that starts in childhood and continues throughout our lives, so take the time to learn both what TO DO, and what NOT to do. Notice who does a good job and who doesn’t. You will be able to tell. Bonus points when you can say why.

Conducting mock interviews

Write up a list of interview questions based on your key messages. Then have someone you know and trust do mock interviews with you by asking the questions you created. It’s a good idea to record this, either on video or via audio so that you can review your efforts. Then, when you feel really confident in your answers, have your interviewer go off script and ask you other questions he or she has about your book. See how you do. Resist the urge to laugh and say, “Start over.” Keep going because that is what you would have to do in a real interview situation.

Keep the host on track

Sometimes an interviewer will go off on tangents. It’s on you to guide the interview back to why you’re there–elegantly. I can’t count how many interviews I’ve seen that were pretty good, but the host and guest barely touched on the actual reason the guest was there. The host sent them down a wrong road and the author had no idea how to guide things back to the purpose at hand. By the end of the interview, the guest touched on few to none of his or her key messages and therefore got very little for the time and expertise given.

Research the culture of a show

There is no excuse NOT to do this. We live in a day and age where it’s easy to research this. Gone are the days when one of the strategies was to call a radio station in another part of the country and ask to be put on hold so you could hear the host of the show on the air. (The on-air programming was almost always the “on hold” content on the phone. And, yes, this was really how we did it way back in the day.) No excuses anymore not to know the culture of the show and the attitude of the host.

One caveat: I booked someone for a public affairs show once and when she did some research she saw that the host was also part of the wacky morning show. She couldn’t see how this guy could do a serious interview, even though he was an excellent newsman and interviewer. Initial looks can be deceiving, so make sure you do enough research.

Scary questions

Not every author or expert has questions that they are afraid to be asked. However, if you do have some, then when you’re doing media training with a professional or mock interviews with a friend, figure out the best way to answer the scary questions first. Once you’ve come up with the best response, practice it so your answers just roll off your tongue and you don’t have any energy about them. This will give you more confidence and energy than anything else.

Learn how to deal with push back and controversy

If you’re doing an interview with a traditionally trained media person, you’re going to get some push back as it relates to some of your key points. This is normal and to be expected. Good interviews and stories have elements of challenge and difficulty in them, and the good news is that I guarantee you once you have a little experience, you will enjoy this challenge.

If you’re doing interviews with affiliates, some podcasters and others, and you’re working together to sell something or upsell people to another offering, you most likely won’t have any push back. That’s a different kind of interview.

Here are some other tips to help you to deliver a great interview.

As I said before, practice is the key element to improved performance. And those who are really good make it look super easy. Don’t lull yourself into thinking it will automatically be easy for you. Baryshnikov makes dancing look easy too, but I doubt many of us could pull off his moves.

Bottom line

Practice may never make someone perfect, but it’s going to make you so much better. Have fun with it!

And on another note, it’s OCTOBER

We have now entered the month of October. What is special about this month that you can tie your book into? After all, not all media is covering Covid, the election, riots, wildfires, and pandemics. (Goodness. What a year.)

October is:

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