Everybody worries about upcoming interviews, from first-timers who do not know what lies ahead to experienced pros who have done it all before but still feel that flutter of nerves as the time approaches. We feel anxiety about interviews because we have put ourselves into a situation where we are not entirely in control – that we are at the mercy of the interviewer and risk that we will sound foolish.
However, with preparation and practice there is every reason to expect that an interview will be a great experience. The fact is, bad interviews do not happen very often. While we have all seen and heard ‘car crash’ interviews before, the reason that they stand out is precisely because they are so rare. Ask yourself how often you hear someone be interviewed and how often those interviews go wrong. And those that do go badly? Nine times out of ten it is because of lack of preparation.
But while you need to be prepared, don’t assume that the person that you are talking to will be. There is a good chance that the interviewer will not have read your book or, if they have, they will have just skimmed it quickly. Don’t be offended and don’t expect them to, it was the ‘story’ that was told in your press release that attracted them to you and that is what they care about. It is their job to talk to interesting people, not to sell your book. That is your job!
So here is how you go about it:
There are many kinds of interview: They may be live on-air or pre-recorded, face-to-face or over the phone, adversarial or conversational. Make sure that you are clear in advance about how the interview is going to work and prepare accordingly. Listen to past programmes to get a feel for the show and the interviewer. What is their personal style and what do they like to talk about?
2) Elevator pitch
You will probably be asked what your book is about. If you have not yet mastered the art of talking about your book in less than 20 seconds, you need to do so now. Practice summarising your book aloud until you have it committed completely to memory. Don’t just recite the plot, focus on intriguing issues that draw people in. And start with your title – this is an easy way to make sure that it gets mentioned.
3) Anticipate questions
Sometimes you may be given all or some of the questions in advance, but most of the time that will not be the case. Even so, you can anticipate most of the questions that will come up. Take a step back and read your press release and/or pitch email as if you know nothing about your book at all. What would you ask if you were conducting the interview? When looked at from the point of view of the interviewer most questions will jump out at you.
4) Listen to yourself
Record yourself answering some possible questions and play it back. Are you a low-pitched droner or a top-level squeaker? While nearly everybody hates to hear themselves talk, you do need to realistically assess what you sound like and adjust your “radio voice” accordingly. The most important thing, however, is to make sure that you are expressing passion for your material. If you sound bored, your audience will be bored.
5) Make an impact
We tend to think that people who make an impact in interviews are controversial or overbearing, but that is not necessarily true. You can make a great case for your book with emotional pull, an interesting story or a fascinating insight. I recently worked with an expert in health and safety, widely regarded as one of the duller topics in the world, but when he talked about building safety inspections he made it fascinating by focusing on the human impact – the reason for the regulations. The author created an emotive interest for listeners. Remarkably he also managed to tie his expertise to the plot of his new crime novel, which neatly brings us to…
6) Product placement
You need to make sure that your book gets mentioned, either by the presenter or yourself, but done poorly getting the title of your book into an interview can sound awkward. To make it flow prepare a couple of ‘entry points’ to turn the conversation to your book and to tell the listeners what it is called.
Enjoy yourself! Yes, interviews can be nerve-wracking but if you are well prepared and practiced you can be confident that you will do your best. The more relaxed that you are the better the conversation will flow between you and the interviewer, which makes the show better for listeners. It’s a virtuous circle: Preparation builds confidence, confidence helps you to relax and relaxation leads to a great interview.
I look forward to hearing about your book over the airwaves!