3 Steps to giving a top-notch radio interview
edited: Monday, February 04, 2008
By Sarah Gerdes
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, January 28, 2008
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Keep it short, keep it simple and stay on subject
Growing up in the corporate world, I had the advantage of employers paying lots of money to send me to corporate communications training school. This wasn't the cheap, on-the-job training, it was the pay $2000 bucks with an expert for three days type training. Since I was young and impressionable, the training took. Over the last fifteen or so years, working with the media has been a staple of my professional life, and I realized just how few authors have attended some type of media training. So I'm going to try my best to squish out the best tips and techniques in a short article.
In comes down to three factors to success: the 3'Ks: Keep it short, Keep it simple, and Keep on Subject.
Keep it Short
Let's stop right here. (See what I mean?). This is easy to repeat but not so easy to do, particularly for authors. Why? We like to talk, as it feeds our inner desire to be heard. In other words, we after spending so much time devoting our life to creating our hard-bound baby, we want to gush and gush and gush about how beautiful the baby is. Yet this runs cross grain to the interviewer who ants to talk about the process of getting pregnant.
To be more blunt, the media work like this: They ask a question and they want the simple, sound-bite answer first. If they want more detail, they'll ask for it. In other words, the media wants the What first, and the When and Why second and third, if they are interested.
A media expert explained it best when he said the answer is first with the media, the reason behind the answer is secondary. This is the direct opposite of how we learn in school, how we justify a pay raise and why we don't clean the bathroom (I was busy, the dog at my car keys and I couldn't do it versus, I couldn't do it, here's why).
So in effect, we have to undo a way of learning and a communication style that's been drilled into us for our entire lives.
To be a bit more tactical, think about it in an equation.
Press asks: what is the answer to 1+2. We (the author) need to answer '3'. No more, no less. But what the "untrained media subject" does is go into a convoluted explanation of what 1 and 2 are, where they came from, why these numbers are important and finally, after much cajoling (and 2 minutes later when the interviewer is asleep) gets around to giving the answer.
Question: What's the weather forecast for today?
Wrong Answer (1+2=3) It's cloudy outside, a few bright spots but it's also a bit humid. I bet it will rain in a few hours.
Compare this with the Right Answer: 98% change of precipitation.
This gives the interviewer an opportunity to follow up with a question or two, break the segment up and engage the audience by asking: "How does that make you feel?" or "How did you get to be so smart?" better yet "Where does your keen eye for the weather come from?"
When this concept was being drilled into my head, I couldn't internalize it for beans. The trainer kept at it. In desperation, she gave me a few practices exercises, and then recorded me again. It was the exercises that did the trick.
Take a question (any old question) and provide the 1+2=3 answer. Chances are this will be the one that first springs to mind. Reverse the order and that's what you need to say to the media.
Interviewer: How do you manage to write 4 pages a day?
Right answer: I have a very disciplined schedule.
Interviewer: What does an average day your life look like?
Right answer: I've found that the first part of the day is household activities and the afternoon is for writing.
Interviewer follow-up question: That's interesting. Most writers like John Grisham prefer the morning for writing.
Interviewer: That's true . But Grisham has the advantage of having an agent, a publicist, a publisher and a fleet of people doing his business for him. I have to talk on the phone to get all my work done, and they work business hours so it's when I can take care of marketing my book. Once that's off my plate, the entire afternoon is mine. My head's clear, I'm free to explore and create.
Interviewer: Wow. I'd never thought of that. Tell me what else you do that's different....
You can see the interview builds up as the interviewer is interested. In turn, this engages the audience, and is especially true with radio interviews.
Repeat over and over again. 3=1+2. That's the key to success for dealing with the media.
And as a side benefit, you can also use this at cocktail parties. When someone asks you a question, don't give the novel version. Give the short version first. If the person asking the question really is interested in you, they'll follow-it up inquiring for more detail. If they don't care so much for you and were only making small-talk, you'll have saved yourself time and exposure with a long answer no-one paid attention to.
Master this skill set first and the other two techniques will easily follow.
*I must put in the caveat that analysts are different (so too, are teachers). They want the 1+2=3, since those types want to know the reasoning behind the answer, before the answer is given.
Keep it Simple
You can see from the above examples that when an answer is short, it has to be simple by definition. Author's (and executives) tend to forget that members of the media like stories when they ask a question about A STORY. But when every answer is an allegory, a metaphor or a drawn-out memory, it gets tiring. A writer has a limited word count, and a radio program has limited time.
Have no more than 3 primary messages you want to get across. For each, pick two or three sound-bits (e.g. one-sentence or fewer than 8 words) for each. Then, depending on the question asked, you can rotate from among these ready-made sound bites.
If you've noticed actors promoting a movie, they have one or two general themes, and then they will have a set number of examples for each of the two themes they are emphasizing. While this doesn't make it all that unique for movie critics, the mass audience hears/reads/sees a consistent message or two from the actor about the work being covered. You need to find a balance between being unique and looking like an original (and possibly failing on both counts) or coming across as crisp, articulate and on message.
Keep on Subject
Here again, this seems obvious right? But it’s not. Let’s suppose you’ve written a medical thriller and include some new technologies in your book. Computers in Healthcare might call you up for an interview. This would be cool. Executives from across the country as well as techno-geeks read this magazine and would probably buy your book. So when the interviewer asks you about your inspiration for the technology and why you set the book in a hospital, you want to sell the book so bad and talk about the character and the plot that you forget to answer the question. In the process, you ignore the audience, and the subject that is important to the readership. So instead of answer the question in a way that tells the readers you do know a lot about technology, and love medical settings and why, you drone on and on about the plot and character, when it’s authenticity the interviewer wanted to hear about.
Don’t kill the messenger on this one. Go with me. I’ve heard it done. I’ve done it myself. And this is a real-life example. The author always, forever and eternally, needs to stay on subject. The follow-on questions will come. For example, in the above scenario, the interviewer could say “you sure know your products. How does technology play a role in your book?” and then you can go on about the plot and character.
Practice keeping focused during the interview. You can do this by writing the question down (if you are being interviewed by radio). Better yet, for radio interviews, it’s a common practice to provide questions for the host, since very few actually read the book. And it’s not bad form if you are being interviewed in person and make notes. Trust me, the interviewer would rather have you take notes and have articulate answers to questions than to have you ramble on and on. The only time this won’t work is if you are on TV.
The Closed-Loop Communication
You might notice that the three techniques are intertwined. When you answer the question in the right order and you keep the answer simple while staying on-subject, everyone has a more satisfying experience. Even if you err in one of the two areas, the combination of all three will save you from ending up with an article or radio interview that meanders. The goal is to generate excitement for your book(s), create an immediate connection with the readers/listeners thereby inspiring a trip to the bookstore. If you can practice the techniques to the point where they become second nature, you’ll find members of the media more interested in you as a subject because they know what they will get, and the three parties (you, the interviewer and the audience) will be more satisfied.