How To Give Good Interview: Suit Up. Own It. Be Gracious.
The little stuff that makes all the difference:
- Know who you’re talking to. It takes less than five minutes to check out your interviewers’ website. What’s their show about? Who have they interviewed before? Most importantly: who is the audience? Speak to the heart concerns of that audience.
- Send your bio in advance (a well-written, natural-sounding bio that you want audiences to pay attention to), with links to photos and/or your favorite articles that you’ve written. Spoon feed the producers/host.
- Never give an interview on an empty stomach. Nothing like low blood sugar to get you rambling.
- Look good. Video recordings are forever. (Trust me, you’ll only look like crap once on YouTube or Breakfast TV, and then you’ll get yourself properly primped for the next time.)
- Tips for Skyping: Treat your office, your kitchen, or wherever you’re recording from like it’s a stage set. So like, no recycling bins in the background. And put the cat in the bedroom.
Ask any photographer and they’ll tell you the most flattering way to shoot someone is from above. Set your chair height so that you’ll be slightly lower than your webcam. This may feel awkward because it’s not how you normally sit, but it’s more flattering to be shot from above than from below (big noses, double chins, eye bags — they magically double in size with lower angles.)
Turn on all the lights you have. Shoot near a window if you can. Less light = more grainy resolution.
The big, most meaningful stuff (if you get this right, you can forget all the other stuff. Kinda.):
- Own the interview. This is key to your mindset. You give interviews to get your message out to the world and be of service in doing so. You are furthering your agenda. So take your mission to heart and turn every question — even the left field, seemingly unrelated questions, into an opportunity to say what you came to say.
For example, you want to talk about the new time management app that you’ve developed, and the interviewer asks about your thoughts on the economy. You say: “Certainly times are tough for many of us, and I’m also seeing a lot of entrepreneurial spirit coming forward. And it turns out that people who thrive against the odds are great time managers.” You control the context.
- Be gracious — don’t let your impatience with the interviewer himself show through (although if you’re discussing politics, go wild with your impatience.)
Inevitably, someone’s gonna ask you a stupid question, maybe even a long series of stupid questions, very early in the morning.
My favourite peeve is when an interviewer asks me to address something that I just finished addressing. For example, I could just have finished riffing on why the sky is blue, and they’ll say, “So can you give us 3 reasons why the sky is blue?”
This dumbfounding lack of presence usually happens because the interviewer is sticking to the list of prepared questions in front of them, rather than having an actual conversation with you.
When this happens, you can warmly say, “Well, to build on what I was just saying …” and take the topic deeper or in a new direction.
Side bar: Interviewing can be a tough, unnerving gig. It’s understandable why so many interviewers work with a script (and they should have questions prepared) — but it can also be a barrier to quality interaction.
- Don’t talk about things you don’t want to talk about. It will feel terrible and icky if you do, for everyone, not just you. But, you don’t want to shut down the conversation, either.
I’ve been asked about my sex life in interviews. I’m happy to talk about sex, but if you think I’m gonna dish my own details — well, it’s just not my style.
Best thing to do in these cases is talk about the subject from a bird’s eye view, and change the subject or put it back to the interviewer. i.e. “I think sex is one of the best parts of being human. And I’m sure you agree, yes?”
- Don’t play dumb in order to be gracious. I was talking about finding work that you’re passionate about with a radio host and she said to me, smugly, “Well I’m passionate about walking my dog. So do you mean I should scoop dog poop for a living?”
I had a choice at that moment: fake sweetness and get my point across, or be genuinely intelligent and still get my point across. “No, Jane, that would make for a shitty job, wouldn’t it? (said with laughter). I’m talking about life-affirming work, and it’s available to so many of us.” The interview took a turn for the better.
- Be a love beacon. You will get asked a lot of the same questions over and over, especially if you’re doing a campaign. Answer every question like it’s the first time and no one has ever heard you before. Give it your all. You’re here to serve.
- Be appreciative. Really feel into a sense of appreciation before, during, and at the end of every interview. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking with someone who has a baby blog that they just started, or the national noon news hour — these people are helping you broadcast your work in the world.
Think of every interviewer as an angel with a microphone — and speak clearly.
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On the flipside, check out my article:
How to Conduct a Great Interview: Punctuations + Emotion