It happened again this week. The morning shows of top-tier national media outlets, specifically CBS This Morning, were still learning how to interact with one another during live broadcasts from their own in-home studios.
As a publicist and media trainer, it was amusing to watch, but more importantly, it should help those working on improving their own interviewing skills to feel good. There is something very satisfying about watching top professionals act like amateurs while struggling to get it right. It makes high-profile “celebrities” human, and it normalizes the challenging process of getting comfortable on camera.
I wish I could post a link to the anchors as they were doing a three-way split-screen, but of course, they didn’t upload that. Can’t blame them. One particular morning the hosts were interrupting each other, then trying not to interrupt each other, only to have lengthy periods of dead air in between–sometimes for as long as ten seconds. Very awkward. You could see the brief flashes of frustration as each host tried to get it right, and they’re still working on it. It reminds me of some important suggestions to keep in mind when you’re doing interviews.
Here are a few interview suggestions to help you get it right as you’re interviewing about your book.
You don’t realize how important those non-verbal cues are until you don’t have them. When you’re doing podcast, radio, or on-camera interviews and you’re not in the same room with the host, what can you rely on to know when it’s your turn to speak and that the other person has finished what they’re saying? You only have their voice. Even on camera if you’re looking at the camera lens (and you should be) and not at the screen, you won’t be able to see the host and any nonverbal cues that they could be giving you. Your listening skills have to be finely tuned. You need to be comfortable with brief pauses, and you have to be careful not to interpret silence on their end to mean something negative. I’ve got more on this here.
It’s going to happen. Somewhere, sometime, someone is going to ask you a question that comes from way out of left field. So much so that your internal dialogue might say something like, “Why is he (or she) asking me this question? This relates to nothing in my book. My pitch didn’t include this and there’s nothing in my press materials including the talking points that suggest I speak to this!” Yet, at the same time, you have to respond with some answer, and then you can bridge to a key message you do want to talk about. Hosts will surprise you. You can bet on it.
Most trained journalists or talk show hosts won’t do this, but sometimes you’ll run into a host who wants to compete with you and who wants to be top dog. It will happen, and my best advice to you is not to engage with that kind of competitive energy. For one thing, it wears a person out. Also, presumably, the audience likes the host, so if you engage in a similar way, the audience is not going to side with you. Unless their schtick is totally outrageous and you’re expected to respond in a similar way, don’t take the bait. (Personally, I believe a host’s job is to help you shine and to be curious about what you and your book are about, not to compete with you as to who is the better expert.)
The doctor is in
If you are highly credentialed, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, medical doctor, etc., some hosts will want you to diagnose them or help them in some way. It’s very likely the questions they ask you, which the host will say are meant for those in the audience, are really the host’s issues, and you are a way for them to help work out their problem. You may suspect this and, of course, you would never say so, but realize you will likely be giving some very skillful advice during some of your interviews. Some want you to be their therapist or doctor and it seems to come with the territory.
Who does the prep?
Usually earned media will prepare the interview themselves. They are trained in research and conducting interviews so other than the press kit and a copy of your book, they will work on the questions and the scope of the interview. Media folks who don’t have such training or experience will likely expect you to put everything together for them. Some will want a pre-interview in which you discuss and decide how the interview will progress. Expect it. You will be doing the work.
Pay for play?
Media interviews do not cost money. Advertising and advertorials do, so when someone wants money for an interview it’s advertising and marketing — not publicity. Just this week I had a client book her own podcast, which was very exciting. However, that excitement was short-lived and quickly turned to disappointment when she received a note asking for some money to cover the show’s hard costs for producing the show. In fact, the host very specifically said, “This is not a fee!” Um, yes, actually it is.
My client declined as she gets plenty of media without paying for it and there are lots of opportunities for interviews. Now, I’m not saying it’s always bad to use “pay for play” because there may be certain circumstances where it’s called for, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any examples at the moment.
There is a lot to think about when doing interviews, whether on camera or audio only. As is the case in probably every profession, those who do it well make it look (and sound) so easy. The best way to come across like the pro you are is practice, practice, practice. Good luck!
To your success!
P.S. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. If COVID-19 has touched you or your family in some way, our thoughts are with you. Please stay safe and take good care!