Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday 13

I used to be a news reporter, so I know a bit about interviews - both giving and receiving. I've been the interviewer more times than I can count, but I have been interviewed myself only a handful of times, if that. I could probably write a book about it, but I think there are already a few out there.

It is much harder to be the person being interviewed, especially if you are not used to giving information to the public. The heat of the moment, especially if things get a little emotional, means you may say things you don't intend. You may also forget what you said, only to find a surprise in the newspaper or on the TV the next day.

So here are some interview tips, if you are being interviewed.

1. Decide if you want to do the interview. The decisions that go into this are many - your expertise on the topic, the reason for the interview, your trust in the interviewer, the venue. A controversial subject means there will be people who disagree with you, and in today's social media age that means you may read things you don't want to about your thoughts and ideas. Also ask yourself if the interview is relevant or timely. A hint: noncontroversial subject matter is easier for the person being interviewed than controversy, so first timers might want to keep this in mind. If you collect trains, you're probably good. That's a feel-good feature piece. If you're an environmentalist who hates trains, you're likely to receive adverse publicity from social media. Because let's face it, lots of people like trains.

2. Find out what you can about the reporter/news anchor / blogger and the company they work for. You may not want to bother with a blogger who has 10 readers, but a major news outlet could mean big bucks for your business. If a freelance writer contacts you, ask where she plans to sell the article. Do not ask if you can read it first. Some interviewers may allow that, but most media do not allow reporters to give subjects any say in what is written or said for the publication or TV.

3. Find out where the interview will take place. Try to get it on familiar ground, if you can - if you're more comfortable in your office or when you're out on a jog, then see what you can work out so that it suits you. While you may not be able to get a reporter to run along beside you, she may be agreeable to meeting you at the park before your run.

4. However, you may need to have a certain look - coat and tie, for example - depending on subject matter. Keep that in mind. (As an aside, the news reporter should also dress well. I can't tell you how many newspaper reporters I've seen in crummy jeans and mutilated tennis shoes. Come on, people. Be professional. At least buy new shoes.)

5. After you've decided to do the interview, think about your message. Are you promoting a book? What kind of slant can you give the interview to make it more interesting to readers, viewers, or listeners? Figure out your key points and try to deliver them in 30 seconds. Generally, you should have three succinct messages, preferably linking together in some fashion.

6. During the interview, talk in "regular" speak. Don't use acronyms or words that may be found only in your industry. Not everyone knows what OSHA is, nor can they recite the Periodic Table. Keep things around a 6th grade level, if you can.

7. Have papers to hand to the interviewer so they have something to refer to. If you have research you can share, do so. If there's a synopsis of your book ready, hand it over. Your interviewer will be grateful for the extra information. A resume doesn't hurt, either, to give the interviewer information he may not otherwise have. You never know what can fill out a story.

8. Remember that there is no such thing as "off the record" unless you both agree to it, and even then, unless you really trust the interviewer, don't consider it a reality. Many people when being interviewed tend to just throw out, "oh, and off the record, so-and-so did thus-and-such," but unless the interviewer specifically agrees to keep the information out of a story, it's fair game.

9. Try not to fill in a silence. Reporters know that people are uncomfortable when it gets quiet, and eventually the interview subject will say something just to break the silence. That's when you may start to ramble and say things you didn't intend to say.

10. If the reporter gets argumentative and you're not there to argue, end the interview. Some interviewers come in loaded for bear, with an agenda already set, and it doesn't matter what you say, because they are trying to slant the story.

11. Record the interview yourself with a tape recorder so you can remember what you said. Some reporters do not take notes. Some interviewers record the interviews. You have the same right, so do it. Let the interviewer know as a courtesy.

12. If your interview will be on TV, radio, a podcast, or some other form of audio, make sure not to speak in a monotone. Try not to be nervous; a shaky voice comes through and can detract from your message.

13. If you are being interviewed in your own space, be aware that the interviewer may take note of items in your home or office. The interviewer may go to the restroom and open your medicine cabinet. They may note that you collect Beanie Babies or have photos of your family on your desk. Look over your space with the eye of a TV camera. If there's something there you don't want seen, put it away.

The interviewer will ultimately control the story and the interview, but try not to let the person get to you. Emotions make for good copy, but may not make you look good.

Most of all, be careful.


Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here if you want to read other Thursday Thirteens and/or play along. I've been playing for a while and this is my 456th time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday. 


  1. Interesting, and well put together. Im a mess when it comes to being interviewed, no matter who is doing the interviewing. Avoidance is key, lol.

  2. When I listen back to interviews I've done. I'm always disappointed at how much I talk and sometimes cut things off. I always appreciated people who are prepared, in that they have thought about what they want to say. Some are so quotable and others not at all. The few times I've been interviewed, I felt like they never got it really right. It's so hard because you don't get to read it before its published. Have you had people who ask to? Some don't even notice my tape recorder.

  3. Thanks for these tips. I've copied them for my files--just in case I get to be interviewed.

  4. I would add: practice speaking without all the "ers" and "ahs" and -- worst of all, "it's like, you knows," particularly if it is to be a live interview. You'll sound more intelligent. '-) My T13

  5. I have only been officially interviewed once. It was a disaster and resulted in a job demotion. I might consider it again for book promotion, but it isn't likely.

  6. These are great suggestions! You know your way around journalism! I don't know that anyone would ever want to interview me, other than job applications, but you never know. Maybe one day I'll be teacher of the year! Haha!


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