Interviews I’ve done in the last few weeks: 20 (at least)
Ways I am intimidating: 0
Percentage of people who are intimidated by a media interview: 91 (in my purely scientific estimate)
“Hi, I am Anne Woodman, from the [publication name here], and I would like to speak with you about your [book, race, special needs child, etc.]. Do you have a few minutes?”
Did your blood run cold? Did everything interesting about yourself suddenly leave your mind?
In this world of video cameras, YouTube and 24-hour news channels, many people are media-ready. Many speak publicly for work conferences and presentations almost daily. But there are just as many who enter a media interview with a racing heart, sweaty palms and a fear of saying exactly the wrong thing.
I am a features writer, not an investigative reporter. Although I call many people who are not directly seeking media attention, I speak with plenty who have sent out a news release to tell about a book they have written, play they are debuting or award they have won.
Many of these people are well-spoken and warm, sharing parts of their lives that in the past would have been verboten: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, miscarriage, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, child abuse or domestic violence. I can’t even imagine what it is like to share something so personal with the public. But some of them do it so well, I have learned from them. Not only have I learned things that may help me someday if I am ever interviewed by the media, but I have learned what I, the interviewer, like and can use to make you, the “famous” person, even more wonderful.
Here are some tips to get you thinking before you send out that news release and your phone starts ringing.
1. Talk about your subject like you would to your best friend. I am not your best friend. I’m sure I would be if I knew you, because you are fun and hilarious and understand things about the world that I have only imagined. However, I’m not saying we need to be best-ies. You just need to walk me through the process of how you got to this point in a way you would to a friend you haven’t seen in a while… maybe one who has been traveling in Indonesia and is hanging on your every word.
2. Don’t regurgitate the news release. Expanding on Tip #1, do not go back to your elevator pitch. Save that for an agent, or an editor, or what you write for the front flap of your upcoming bestseller. I want to hear about your book as if you never wrote the news release. I will ask you questions that lead you to a different place–don’t keep circling back to what you know. Swim out to the deep end, and trust that you will stay afloat. Let me know about why you wrote the book, what your nephew said about the 10K race that you established or how you were diagnosed with a brain tumor and miraculously cured.
3. Be specific. My high school English teacher used to write this on my papers, and I never understood why. Now I do. Broad strokes are boring. Tell me about the time when you came home, and the dog had torn open a bag of Dixie Crystals sugar, and the ants were crawling all over the kitchen and you knew you had to write an epic historical novel about brave dogs throughout history.
4. Share all of your recent accomplishments, even if I don’t ask. One time recently, I was interviewing a middle school teacher about a blog she writes and how technology helps the students complete their research projects. Only as I was wrapping up the interview and happened to ask a tangential question about manga did she mention, “Oh, I just published a book about that.” Wow! Now, there’s an accomplishment I hadn’t heard about. The popularity of graphic novels became a key piece of the published story.
5. Expect me to ask, and plan to be open. I’m not here to pick apart your life. But if you mention on the news release that you were abused as a child and it informs your work, please expect me to ask about it. If you are more comfortable having a more rehearsed answer to a juicy question, at least have one ready.
6. But know your boundaries. If an interviewer has found out about something you planned to keep private, don’t allow him or her to delve into territory you aren’t opening up for scrutiny. We are taught in journalism school that nothing, NOTHING, is off the record. Draw a line in the sand, and don’t step over it.
7. Don’t sweat the small talk. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me recently that they aren’t good at small talk. If small talk is inconsequential nothingness, and I’m good at it, what does that make me? Small talk is your chance, as an interviewee, to steer the conversation. You are the subject, the incredibly exciting person I have called, and if we find out that we both love sweet tea and “Property Brothers,” I can promise you, the interview will be off to a roaring start.
Best wishes as you dazzle the world!