How to Survive the TV Interview
When that red light goes on, you have three options–freeze, ramble, or knock it out of the park.
Since you probably spent quite a bit of time and effort to get your 15 minutes, let’s make you aware of things that can catch you off guard.
I remember my first TV interview. I was 22 and working as a new reporter at a start-up television station in Macon, Georgia. I was doing a story on the government furlough of 1995 and had just returned to the newsroom from a national park that was empty. I was scrambling around putting my first news piece together, and then, it was time to “go live.” That red light nearly gave me a heart attack. You have no idea what effect it will have until you are in the moment. I have that tape around my house somewhere and I’m afraid to look at it.
Since then, I have put together thousands of stories, conducted thousands of interviews, been “live” thousands of times. And each time, no matter how seasoned a person is, you must take into account the steps below.
1. Practice makes perfect.
Familiarity may breed contempt, but not in this case. If you have an upcoming interview, have your best friend, your spouse, or your 9-year-old interview you about your topic. Do it a few times. Record the interview and as painful as it may feel, watch the recorded video. You will notice things you never noticed before, like how you use your hands wildly, how you say, “ummm” or “uhhh” too much, how you play with your hair. If you don’t practice and record, you will never know.
2. Do your homework.
Will the reporter be coming to your home? Will you be traveling to the studio? Will it be taped? Will the segment run live? Who will be asking the questions? This is easy to find out by emailing or calling the person who set up the interview. And know that they are not out to “get” you. They want an informative piece to share with their viewers.
3. Technology will fail.
So plan for it. For a live segment in the studio, get there early. Make sure the car is ready to go before you hop in it. The last thing you want to get in the way of your first live broadcast is car trouble. I have seen it. Many studios have robotic cameras and lots of thick wires on the ground. Watch where you step. And look for it. The red light will be there. On top of the camera.
People always ask me before an interview, “What are you going to ask me?” And I always hesitate to do that. An interview is a conversation and you want it to be genuine. The questions are meant to draw out your answers, to help you tell your story. The best advice I can give is to listen to the questions and answer from a place of authenticity. Unless you’re at the center of controversy, the interviewer isn’t there to trip you up. He/she just wants to hear what you have to say.
5. Be real.
There was something in your story that was compelling to the reporter or the producer. I remember talking with interviewees before the interviews who had sheer panic in their eyes. But I always told them that it’s their story we’re sharing. Tell your story truthfully, with as much of your personality showing through as you can, sweaty palms and all.
6. Watch what you wear.
Bright, solid colors are your friend in the studio. Try anything else and you run a great risk. You want the attention to be on what you say, not what you wear. So, don’t go overboard with jewelry, make-up or patterns. Once, I thought hoop earrings and a bright blue striped scarf worn together was a good idea. My news director had other things to say.
7. Time is of the essence.
Yes, there are 24-hour news stations. Chances are, producers aren’t interested in hearing you speak for that long. Live interviews are typically 2-3 minutes long. While it may feel like an eternity to you, in many cases, it’s the perfect amount of time for a viewer listening to your topic. Don’t waste it sharing just one thought. Be aware of cues from the interviewer. If the reporter is doing an interview at your home or office, the interview itself may be ten minutes long. The piece that runs on television could be whittled down to a minute and a half. Be clear, concise, and courteous.
Finally, have fun. It will be over before you know it.
Let’s hear from you. Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping your cool in an interview? Tell us in the comments below!