Monday, August 15, 2011 at 5:02PM
The phone rings. You answer with a cheerful voice, but your tone quickly changes. Your stomach drops and you notice you’ve begun to sweat. On the other end of the line? A television reporter asking for an interview – likely as soon as possible.
As a former television reporter specializing in live interviews, I’ve calmed the nerves of hundreds of interview subjects. Trust me, under most circumstances, we don’t want you to be a nervous mess on camera. Reporters want their interviews to seem intelligent and capable. That shows the reporter has good skills in interview selection.
(The exception to all of this is when you’ve obviously done something wrong and are trying to cover it up. Then it’s your own fault if you screw up.)
Here are a few simple things to know before your TV interview:
- Don’t look at the camera. Have you ever been watching a TV story, and all of a sudden one of the people being interviewed is just staring at you? It’s jarring, isn’t it? Don’t be a deer in the headlights. Just look at the reporter and pretend you’re having a conversation without the camera. (For live interviews, you can do whatever feels natural.)
- Most interviews are edited. Especially for short stories, a producer or reporter will pick out about five to ten seconds from your entire interview to actually air. The rest of your interview will be used for information. If there’s something you want people to know, come up with a good soundbite ahead of time. The editing also means you can mess up a few times. If you start stuttering, stop talking. Take a deep breath and start your thought again.
- Stick to the basics in live interviews. Rambling is generally frowned up in any interview, but it’s especially painful with the reporter has an urgent producer in her ear, telling her to wrap up the liveshot. You will generally have fewer than two minutes to cover a lot of information, so make sure you know what the reporter expects beforehand. Don’t overthink and come up with a script, but don’t go in unprepared either.
- Look in the mirror. I’m not saying you have to hire a makeup artist or visit your stylist. Just avoid the awkward moment when a reporter asks you if you need to blow your nose or check your teeth before the camera starts rolling.
- For heaven’s sake, don’t swear! As soon as that microphone comes near you, assume it’s on. Especially for live interviews! I had a lovely Christmas Eve interview spoiled by some foul language one year. The actual interview was complete, but the microphone was still on and the live signal was transmitting. Just be careful.
Of course, there are many other tips reporters probably don’t want you to know!
If you’re preparing for an interview, your public relations person should be your first call after you hang up with the reporter. We can walk you through the process, and hold your hand if necessary. (We’ll also make sure the photographer doesn’t shoot the hand-holding part.)
This post originally appeared on the Insight Creative, Inc. blog.