Interview Tips: Prepare For The Dream

I know that I'm not the only blogger with a book fantasy. Because at the heart of it all, we bloggers are writers. In a way, we blog because we have to. We get all these ideas swirling around in our heads, and the easiest way to get them out is to write them down. Because we're Web 2.0, these thoughts go online instead of paper.

Luckily, the fantasy isn't that far-fetched. Many bloggers actually have gotten those coveted book deals. It seems that almost weekly I read about a new book being written by a blogger. And the first blogger book turned into a movie, Julie & Julia, will be coming out next month. I cannot wait to see it!

Unfortunately, this is not a coy prelude to my telling you that I have one of those coveted book deals. Ah, but let me revel in the thought for just a bit....

Okay, I'm back. However, I am happy to tell you that I have something for all you bloggers, or anyone for that matter, who suddenly finds themselves in the spotlight. Many certainly don't need the help, like Nance who had a media frenzy around her blog, The Brian Williams Tie Report, last November. She did just fine.

But what if out of the blue, you needed to give an interview? Would you be ready? That's what happened to freelance writer Susan Johnston, who writes the wonderful blog, The Urban Muse. She was interviewed on ABC News and wrote a post about the experience and gave some interview tips.

I thought it was a really interesting post and was talking to my friend about it on the phone. I was saying that it would be really difficult for your average person to give an interview and said that I don't know that I'd be ready. Then she told me that for her job, she's given many interviews. I had no idea!

Then I asked if she'd be willing to answer some questions here about how to prepare to be interviewed by the media. She agreed. So here's is my friend Nichole Lawton with some tips. Thank you Nichole!

Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you’ve done?

I've worked for a non-profit adoption agency doing public relations work for about 13years. My work has involved extensive collaboration with local print, radio and television venues. I've written press releases and pitched story ideas. I served as spokesperson and interviewed with print and broadcast media. I have had experience planning special events, organizing a press conference, panel discussions, and arranging media coverage. I have produced agency publications and written adoption-related articles for local newspapers.

Are there any differences in your suggestions depending on the type of media - television, radio, magazine, newspaper, blog, etc.?

Preparing for an interview with the media is a lot like preparing for a job interview. The more you do it the more comfortable you will become with it. For simplicity, media can be categorized as either print (newspapers, blogs, magazines) or broadcast outlets (radio and television). The process of preparing is similar for both types of outlets and I'll distinguish any differences. Since preparing for a television interview is probably the most nerve-wracking for most people, I'll focus my tips on that area.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that people make when answering questions during an interview?

Some of the biggest mistakes include going into the interview not having done your homework prior to the interview (more on that later), rambling for the sake of talking (it’s okay to pause or stop talking when you are finished answering the question), and feeling obligated to answer a question. If a question comes up that you don’t know, it’s okay to state that.

If you are not comfortable with answering a question because the subject matter is sensitive or too personal, it’s okay to discuss generalities, answer part of the question, or simply state tactfully that it’s not an area you would like to discuss. I would shy away from saying “no comment,” or answering a completely different question. It’s never okay to lie, but you can frame your responses to discuss your issues in a favorable light.

I'm curious if one mistake might be by giving the interview at all? There may be some circumstances where the person just might not be ready. Maybe if they are just too nervous? Or should people try and work through any fears?

I would not give an interview if you don’t have the knowledge base on the subject matter for the interview. For example, you’re new to a job and the interview is calling for an expert in the field. If you have the knowledge base, you can easily research any points in question. It’s always good to push your comfort level, so I would recommend working through your fears whenever possible. Being able to speak well publicly is a valuable skill in any profession and will grow you and your product exponentially. Practice, practice, practice and have fun (or at least look like you are).

Prior to the interview:

1. Review the interviewer’s previous work to get a sense of their style. For print outlets, read some of the interviewer’s past articles or columns, and for broadcast outlets, listen and watch previous segments. Use the Internet to help track down past work if you’re unable to get a copy of older publications or the broadcast is out of your area.

2. Get a sense of the types of questions that you will be asked. You may not be able to get the exact questions, but you should have an idea of what types of questions will be asked. This step will be essential if you have not had time or access to the interviewer’s previous work. Once you know what questions will be asked, you will then have some time to do any necessary research ahead and think about what you want to say. You don’t want to go to the interview clueless about what will be asked, especially for a live radio or television interview.

3. For a radio or television interview, ask the person arranging the interview (maybe the producer or the host of the program) the format of the interview. For example, will the broadcast interview be live or taped ahead and shown at a later date? If it is taped, is it edited or does it go on as is? If you have photos or other visuals, what type of arrangement do you need to make to show them on television? How long is the interview? Are there any breaks? When you know how long the interview should be, you can tailor your responses to fit the time period.

4. Go over the points you want to make during your interview. Don’t memorize the exact wording of your answers because you want to sound natural and conversational. For a print or radio interview, it’s generally fine to have notes with you because you are not on camera. Again, you want to avoid reading your notes unless you are reading a quote or maybe providing statistical information (which should be kept at a minimum).

For a television interview, notes might not be appropriate to have during the interview. When in doubt, ask prior to when the interview begins. You should also think about any points you don’t want to discuss so that you don’t inadvertently discuss them if your nerves get the best of you. If it’s a group interview, be sure you and the other members of your group are all on the same page about the topics you will be discussing, who will covering what, and topics not to be discussed.

5. Finally, if you want to be very prepared, role play a mock interview with a friend asking you the types of questions that will be asked. Tape the interview if you have a video camera. Watch and evaluate it, preferably with someone with some expertise in communications/interviewing or someone whose opinion you value. If you’re preparing for a broadcast interview, make sure your overall presentation conveys a positive, enthusiastic image.

At the interview:

1. Dress appropriately. Generally business attire is your safest bet. For on camera interviews, choose solid colors that complement your skin tone rather than busy prints that can be distracting. Everyday, subtle makeup is fine for women. Non-makeup wearers or even men can wear a little skin tone face powder to minimize shine under bright lights.
2. Arrive before the interview starts, at least 10-15 minutes ahead. The producer will probably tell you how much time in advance you should arrive.

3. Take some deep breaths before you go on to relax yourself. Remember to breathe normally and not hold your breath while you are being interviewed.

4. Look at the television interviewer for the most part and pretend you’re having a one-on-one conversation. If you stare at the camera, you’ll have that deer caught in headlights look and it will increase your anxiety level. Occasionally, you may want to look at the camera to emphasize a point to the viewing audience. Ultimately, do what the interviewer tells you and follow their lead. If you watched older segments to prepare, you’ll have a sense of the look of the show.

5. For short television interviews, speak succinctly and in “sound bites” that can be easily edited.

6. For print and broadcast interviews, you should not speak about any topics “off the record.” It’s easy for a reporter to mix up notes and get it wrong.

7. Be yourself, have fun, smile and laugh when appropriate. Conveying energy and enthusiasm for your subject can go a long way.

After the interview:

1. Make arrangements with the broadcast station or print outlet to get a copy of the interview, but don’t rely on them. Plan to tape it yourself and have a backup if possible.

2. Review the interview and evaluate your performance in preparation for future interviews. What did you do well? What could have been better?

3. Be prepared that you could have done everything in your power to prepare for the interview and speak positively about your subject and the reporter still misquotes you or frames your interview in a way that you did not intend. If it’s a major error, feel free to submit corrections in writing to the reporter, which may or may not be published for print media. Likewise, contact the reporter to express your appreciation if they did a great job with the interview.

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Good and plenty said…
Good tips. I've been interviewed a lot and I find it pretty easy. The interviewers contacted me because of my work and that was easy to talk about. What's most difficult is when you have an interviewer who isn't asking the questions you want them to so you can give them specific info. I also have to remind myself not to talk too fast on television interviews. Trying to get a lot of info into a tiny amount of time is difficult.
Brandi Reynolds said…
great post and great sharing! Definitely useful for when I'm famous ;-)
Nance said…
Hey, Anali, thanks for the bloglove, first of all! I did, and continue to do, just fine, you're right. I did a couple more interviews after the AP story went international, like for radio stations and a magazine as well, and it does get easier as you do a few more. One thing I'll add here is that, at least in my experience, the interviewers ask similar questions. That makes it easy to an extent. You do want to guard against giving a "canned" sounding answer at that point, though, or you'll sound insincere and practiced. Just my $.02.
K. said…
Lisa, great article...

By the way, that Brian Williams Tie Report is HILARIOUS! That is one funny lady...

Jennifer said…
Your links to all of these bloggers-turned-authors is enlightening. Thanks also for sharing Nichole's insider perspective of interviewing!
This was really interesting reading. In the last few months I've been contacted a few times by local newspapers for phone interviews on Orange County events. I'm always so surprised by it and not really prepared. On the positive side, the questions are usually very simple and easy to answer because they're about events I've been to.
Lisa Johnson said…
good and plenty - Thanks for the feedback. I would guess that there is quite an art to steering the interviewer towards what you want to talk about.

brandi - I heard your recent radio interview, so I think you're on your way. You did a great job!

nance - You're welcome and thanks for your two cents! ; )

jennifer - You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it!

twenty four at heart - That's great that you're getting the publicity. I'm looking forward to reading the L.A. times article. I just checked your blog to see if you posted the link, but no. Oh and I don't have any Spanx either. I guess I need to buy some...
Job Interview Tips said…
Hi there, awesome site. I thought the topics you posted on were very interesting. I tried to add your RSS to my feed reader and it a few. take a look at it, hopefully I can add you and follow
Lisa Johnson said…
job interview tips - Thank you! Glad you liked it. It should be easy to add me to your reader and/or subscribe.

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