How Not to Suck at Doing Interviews

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That “Back to School” feeling isn’t just experienced by kids. Maybe it’s because we once were kids ourselves, but that “back to school” feeling comes up in the fall for pretty much everyone…Back to school, back to work, new beginnings, a fresh new start. I love it.

This makes it a great time to put more oomph into your book campaigns.

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you may be aware that I have been a book publicist for over 22 years now, and about a year ago after attending Podcast Movement in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to be involved in a side project. I became the booking producer for a major podcast called the Something You Should Know Show with Mike Carruthers. We have been consistently in the top 30 in iTunes for the past year now (often in the top 10) so things are going very, very well.

Both roles, that of a publicist and that of a booking producer, plus that fact that my first career was in radio where I interviewed authors all the time, gives me a very unique window as to what is going on in the world of books, authors, guests, podcasts, media, etc.

When selecting guests for our show, I look for many things to be present, including: “Is this cool and helpful information from experts who have lots of credibility?” Then when it comes to actually doing the interview on the show and delivering the information, the guest needs to come prepared and ready. Some don’t. Unfortunately, the result is their interview never sees the light of day.

You don’t want that to happen to you, so here are several things NOT to do when being interviewed — on any show:

Low energy

Be sure your energy is high. You need to communicate enthusiasm for your book and its message, and the way to do that is to deliver the information in an upbeat way. Forget monotone. Forget being too relaxed. Even if you’re delivering bad or sad information, you obviously don’t want to sound happy, but you do want to sound energized. If you have the feeling your energy is over the top, then it’s usually just about right. Practice this. Use some kind of recording device and practice your responses. Listen to other interviews. Especially listen to our show (or the show you’re going to be on) because not only will you get a sense of the tone, but you’ll learn how the interviewer interacts with his or her guests. Very valuable information!

Don’t know your key messages

When a guest doesn’t know his or her key messages, it is beyond obvious. You need to know what you’re going to say. You need to say it. And it needs to be very clear. This can be challenging when you have a wealth of information to get across, but that’s what makes a good guest. They can reduce mountains of information into sound bites and easy-to-understand-and-digest snippets of information. Learning to do this will serve you forever, well beyond doing interviews. Trust me on this.


Don’t know how to do an interview

An interview is a conversation, not a presentation. Unfortunately, speakers are the most likely to fall into this category (with academics a close second). They are so used to getting on stage and holding the audience in their hands, there is a tendency to do it in an interview as well. Don’t. You’re having a conversation. Let the host ask you questions and follow-up questions. Interact. You don’t present and hold court to your partner, do you? Don’t do that in an interview either. It’s a dance.


Can’t get to the point

In this day and age of low attention spans, you have less and less time to make your point. Don’t make people wait. Don’t make people try to figure out what you’re trying to say. They won’t, and worse yet, they’ll move on to something or someone else.


Have no sense of humor

It’s not that you’re appearing on a comedy show, but having a sense of humor is one of the greatest gifts in life. Being able to poke a little fun at yourself can go a long way to endearing yourself to others. Making a strong serious point, and then being able to add something lighter and humorous breaks tension and, again, is very endearing.


Can’t handle push back

Part of an interview almost always includes something from the opposing side. A little confrontation or testing is in the nature of conversation. When you do get push back, take it in stride. Gently but firmly make your point, and this is a good place for that sense of humor we mentioned.


Doesn’t know how to speak in sound bites

Robust snippets that sum up your key messages can be taken from the interview and used in the introduction to the show, or will stand out in the listener’s mind. They call it being sticky. Find ways to turn your key messages into sound bites that are easy to remember.


Can’t recreate pictures in the listener’s mind

When you describe your key message, use words that help create a picture in the listener’s mind. This makes your points easier to remember, holds his or her attention, and makes you look and sound better.


Doesn’t know how to generate interest and surprise

Don’t be boring. If you wonder about this, try listening to other interviews. What is the guest doing that holds your attention and keeps you interested? Compare this to another interview where you find your mind wander off, thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner, for example. In other words, when you discover your mind has moved away from the interview and onto something else, ask yourself why? Why was the guest (or host) unable to hold your attention? Learn from it. Be engaging.


Too focused on self

Whatever you do, forget these three words: “In my book…” There are hosts who will end interviews when they hear these three words and here’s why. Basically, you’re telling the audience that you’re not going to give much away and in order to know what you have to say, they have to buy the book. Now, ultimately, we want them to buy your book, but saying it just makes you look bad. It’s much better to give away tons of valuable information, which, counterintuitively, will inspire people to buy the book. “Wow, if the author has this much to say during a short interview, imagine all the great stuff in the book!” Plus, you sound generous. Forget about being too self-promotional and think about how you’re helping the listener.

If you master these tips and do the opposite of them, you will not only get interviews, you’ll be called back, and you’ll generate tons of interest in you and your book. Keep these tips to heart. I promise it will serve you for many years to come.


P.S. If you think you’d be a great guest for the Something You Should Know show, send me your best pitch and let’s see what you’ve got. Use the contact page on my website and let me know about it.








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