Define what a successful TV interview would look like and build from there

We were surprised to find that an article we wrote 10 years ago on the subject of how to effectively prepare for TV interviews had recently risen again to become our most visited page on this website. We can't explain why things like that happen, but upon reviewing the content of the piece it occurred to us that an update is in order. So here are the new and improved top 10 tips for how to prepare for a TV interview.

  • Imagine what success looks like. Answer these questions: 1) What do I want my audience to know? 2) What do I want my audience to believe? 3) What do I want my audience to do? If you answer these three questions, you have set clear and actionable objectives. If you don't consider what you want out of the interview, you will be stuck in a responsive posture and if the questions aren't to your liking you'll just awkwardly flounder like Meg Ryan in the clip below.

  • Prepare your key messages. Be ready to deliver your messages regardless of the questions you're asked. Acknowledge any questions you're asked with a brief response, but always bridge back to your key messages during an interview. Don't allow yourself to get dragged into areas of inquiry that really don't have anything to do with what you want to accomplish.

  • Make it personal. Spend time beforehand identifying specific examples that tap into the human and emotional aspects of your message that you are passionate about. Adults consume and remember information better when it is in the form of personal stories. Telling stories also helps break your conversation into soundbites.

  • Sync up your content. Ensure that all three elements of your communication -- the message, the nonverbal cues and the verbal cues are aligned. If your message is sober and serious, dress in a dark suit and slow down your pace of speech. If you want to be seen as hard working, roll your sleeves up and speak less formally. If your message is fun and informal, you can probably leave the suit at home and wear a golf shirt. It's worth refelcting on the image that Steve Jobs created for himself: jeans with a turtle neck. As a result, any executive wanting his company or message to be seen as innovative would fail if wearing a suit and/or tie.

  • Make and hold eye contact. A powerful, steady gaze speaks volumes about your trustworthiness. Focus on the the person asking the questions and not on the camera. The more your eyes move around, the more uncomfortable your audience will become. The underlying message is that you are either trying to hide something or you are unsure of yourself.

  • Be welcoming and engaging. You want to exude confidence and energy. Just like you do (or you should anyway!) you want to own the room when you walk into a party, be the first to introduce yourself, put out your hand for a friendly handshake and ask them how their day is going. This is a great opportunity to gather information about the interviewer that might come in handy when you are in the midst of the interview. When sitting during an interview, sit up and lean forward slightly when you talk to make you look engaged in the discussion. With your back straight, it opens up your diaphragm, increases your air supply and sends a signal to your brain that this is not relaxation time. This prevents you from slumping back. Avoid chairs that swivel and rock. They are too tempting, especially when you get nervous. Before you know it you'll be spinning in circles!

  • Be brief. Studies have found that the average TV soundbite is around seven seconds long. That doesn't mean you need to speak in seven second sound bites, but that is how your comments will be cut up in editing. Practice with a stopwatch in front of your bathroom mirror or use the video function on your smartphone to practice. This helps you hone your message and rid yourself of audible pauses such as "um, "like" and "you know."

  • Be prepared for the worst. Brainstorm likely questions as well as worst-case-scenario questions. If you spend some quality time really thinking about it, you should be able to anticipate 85 percent of the questions. It's tougher – though not impossible – to come up with the crazy questions that come out of left field, but it''s worth spending time thinking about them and practicing ways to respond.

  • Dump the distractions. Turn off your smartphone, spit out the gum, remove coins from pockets, don't hold a pen and ask the camera operator to turn off the TV set by the camera so you're not tempted to look at how you look during the interview. If you are looking back and forth at yourself on TV, it is distracting and makes you look shifty.

  • Flexibility is a must. Recognize that anything can happen in TV news, so be prepared and ready to accommodate any unexpected changes. Have a positive mindset regardless of whether an in-studio interview changes to a satellite hookup or an interview that was supposed to be taped suddenly is carried live. It's all good!

And I'll just toss in this extra one for good measure:

  • Don't automatically say "yes." Consider whether television is really a good vehicle for delivering your message. There are a lot of instances where either the cause or the person delivering a message really aren't suited for TV. In the example below, I would just have to assume there was someone who suggested that the spokesperson below should NOT go on TV. It would have been good advice to heed.


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