Before You Go On-Air

You’ve been asked to be on a popular local TV show. The producer is enthusiastic and says, “Just talk about anything.” You are invited to record a podcast. Be on internet radio. The instructions are always the same, “Just be yourself. Relax and enjoy it.” They are forgetting one more important piece of advice: Prepare. Practice. Bring props.

The biggest disaster is the temptation to “wing it.” There is no excuse for being

Prepare to make a new friend. Image:

unprepared for an interview. No one sounds better if they are “spontaneous,” which can quickly become a synonym for “embarrassing.”

Some tips on preparing for a radio/TV/web interview:

1. Ask the date, time and location and how long you will be on the air. Don’t assume, ask. Check your calendar before agreeing. Don’t try to change it for a “better date” once you’ve accepted. Just because the podcast is an hour long, doesn’t mean you have an hour of talk time. Ask. The more questions you ask up front, the more relaxed you can be later.

2. Ask the name of the program, the content, the name of previous popular guests. You’ll be more comfortable being on a program that you have expertise on. It might sound interesting to be on a hot political program, but if the host thinks interviewing means firing non-stop questions and accusations about your point of view, you have a lot more preparing to do.

3. Two questions that precede any interview: Who is your audience? What’s the objective? You’ll need to gear your comments to the popular culture reference of the audience–I once spoke about the family gathering around the kitchen table for activities and the host replied, “I never ate at the kitchen table. Breakfast was in the car on the way to school, and dinner came from the drive-through on the way to soccer.” He lost interest in my field of expertise because I didn’t sound credible to his demographic.

You need to know the objective, because everything you say needs to be geared to meeting the objective. Are you persuading, being the local expert? Is your purpose to rally around a cause? Contribute money? Have people show up somewhere? Unless you know the purpose, you don’t know what to say and how to deliver what you say in an interesting manner.

4. Ask for a list of questions. It’s fine to do that. Again, there are few investigative reporters left. Most likely, you are being asked because you have information. If the host says, “We’ll just talk,” then it’s your job to create a list of questions you want to be asked.

5. Prepare a list of points you want to make. Put them in the order of most important to least important. Make the points interesting to your audience. “Writing in a journal is fun,” is not nearly as interesting to college-age listeners as “Journals aren’t just on paper anymore. You can keep a video journal, too.” A well-written point keeps you on topic and makes a great sound bite.

6. Have some information to back up what you are saying. Your opinion is great, but having several studies that prove your point is better. Tell the host they study is posted on your site, offer to send the information to the host.

7. Gear your style to the objective. Are you asking for agreement or contributions? Be vivid, inject stories, use emotions. You don’t need to break into tears or yell. Logic is on the left side of the brain, but judgement is on the right, along with emotion. Facts are necessary, but if you don’t bring the audience from understanding what you are saying to agreeing with you, you missed the objective.

8. Bring props. Even on radio. A good interviewer will know how to make the most of them. Are you an artist? Bring a good example of your art. A musician? Ask what format is good to bring a sample. You will concentrate better and your interviewer will have a visual to work with. You know TV is a visual medium, but so is radio. Describe, add color–your audience will love you.

9. Practice. The more you practice, the less you will use filler words, such as umm, uhhh, you know, like, and  nervous laughing. Practicing will help you hear the words you stumble over and give you time to find ones that you are more comfortable with. Practicing makes you sound relaxed, calm, and smart. It’s the most overlooked success step for speaker.

Preparing for a show actually calms you down and makes you a better presenter. A good presenter becomes a popular guest, and that’s a plus, too.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and trainer, who helps people give interesting interviews.