There’s plenty of advice to be found on how to prepare for a TV interview. Talk in concise soundbites. Look at the interviewer, not the camera. Don’t wear crazy patterns. But sometimes it’s the little things they don’t tell you that can make or break the interview.
Here are seven practical lessons I’ve learned from my own experience:
1. Bring Duplicates of Everything
I always have my publishers send a copy of my book in advance; the interviewer rarely has it when I get there. Keep in mind that newsrooms are chaotic and the people who work there are increasingly overworked and understaffed. You may have provided a bunch of information to a producer ahead of time — talking points, questions, a bio, a sample of your product or copy of your book, etc. — that doesn’t mean the anchor has actually received them. Bring a hard copy of everything you gave to the segment producer.
2. Create a Fact Sheet on Yourself
Prepare a one-page fact sheet with your name spelled out (and a pronunciation key if necessary), a two- or three-sentence bio, a short paragraph describing your business or product, the link to your website, and a few bullet-point messages. Don’t worry about insulting the interviewer by giving them this basic information. Most are grateful to have it.
3. Be Prepared to Brief the Interviewer
TV anchors and radio hosts juggle dozens of segments in an hour, so you’re lucky if they’ve read your stuff. Most likely they will sit down with you in the two or three minutes before your segment goes on the air and ask you questions to get up-to-speed. This is where you hand them your fact sheet. But also make sure you’re able to brief them aloud.
4. Confirm the Pronunciation of Your Name
The anchor in my last interview butchered my name even though I’d provided a written pronunciation key. I realized afterwards that when he shook my hand and introduced himself, I should have said, “Nice to meet you. I’m ROB BIESENBACH” very clearly and distinctly. You can even go so far as to say, “My name’s pretty tricky — just so we’re clear, it’s pronounced BEE-sen-bock.” Again, they will not be insulted — they’ll appreciate it.
5. Do Your Own Makeup
Okay, there is lots of advice out there on this point, but to be clear: don’t expect them to make you up. I naively asked about this for my first interview: “Is there a makeup person or should I do my own?” The producer chuckled and said, “We slum it here — even the anchors do their own makeup.” So be sure to do your own. If you’re a guy and have never done makeup, learn how. It’s important. A shiny pate or ruddy complexion will be very distracting — especially as contrasted with the anchor’s healthy glow. Go to a MAC store and ask for advice on a light base and powder that goes well with your skin tone and ask them to show you how.
Don’t expect a green room full of refreshments. Don’t even expect a cup of coffee or a sip of water. At the interview the other morning the refrigerator had a padlock on it. So bring a bottle of water. You could also bring coffee or tea, but I’d avoid that if your teeth stain easily.
7. Be Aware When Your 15 Minutes Are Up
Keep in mind that you are just one small part of their very long and stressful day. You will get lots of attention while you are on the air and for about three minutes beforehand and 10 seconds afterwards. Don’t ask for or expect anything beyond that. When you arrive, sit where they tell you and wait patiently. When you’re done, thank them kindly, relinquish your body mic and leave.
Don’t let all this intimidate you. In spite of all the pressures and cutbacks and weird working conditions, the anchors and crew people are almost always courteous and gracious. But understand that the realities of the TV news business today means you’re not going to get a lot of coddling or handholding. Be prepared and be savvy.