Just this morning I realized that the things that seem like no-brainers to me are the kinds of things that most people never even think about–because, really, there’s no reason for them to think about them, not in normal life. But let’s say that life isn’t normal right now, that it’s beyond normal, and let’s say you’ve been contacted and asked to do an interview, either audio or for a publication. Congratulations! This is your chance to spread the word about your work even further.
Let’s not blow it, OK?
Now, I’m not going to tell you what to say and what information to include and leave out–that’s up to you and the person who’s interviewing you. Different venues have different focuses, and I can’t tell you what will be best. What I want to do is talk about the things that might not even occur to you. Let’s start with an audio interview. If you’re asked to do a podcast or a radio show, here are some things you’ll want to think about. Now, ideally, you’d be a stand-up guy about this, and if you’re invited to do what will be Interview #3 for you, it would be wonderful of you to tell the interviewer that and to give them the option of picking another topic or waiting a couple of weeks. This isn’t the way it works in real life, though. In Real Life, when you’re hot, you’re hot. If your book has just come out or you’ve been blogged by someone famous, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to put yourself in front of your audience. So maybe you don’t mention that you’ve talked about your book in half a dozen podcasts already this month. The least you can do is have a different little anecdote to illustrate your point, or use a different example of your technique. Please, please don’t repeat yourself verbatim. It’s not the way to endear yourself to anyone.
When I do interviews, I like things to be really informal–I want you to be relaxed and at ease, enjoying the conversation. There is a line, though, and it comes somewhere between telling amusing stories about life in the studio (good informality) and taking us into the bathroom with you (way too much informality).
So, having said that, let’s talk about the rest–
1. Have something you want to talk about, and make notes if you need to. No matter what the topic is, there may well be a place in the interview where the conversation lags, or there’s some technical glitch, or the interviewer finishes with the questions she’s prepared before you run out of time. Instead of being left talking about last night’s TV viewing, have some stories about your work, about a recent trip or something that inspired you. Tell about taking that giant canvas to UPS, or talk about the shades of blue that you saw in Santa Fe. Always have in mind something you’d like to share that you think listeners would enjoy. Dead air space is the worst.
2. Be in a room alone, sitting down, paying attention. While an audio interview by phone may seem the perfect time to put on your headset and take a walk in the park, there is nothing more annoying than interviewing–or listening to–someone who’s distracted and obviously doing something else. Traffic noises, bird noises, the sounds of people yelling or your dog barking–people tune in to listen to you talk about your work and what you do, not to you trying to break up a fight over who gets the last Jello Pop. Being on the treadmill while you talk may seem like fabulous multi-tasking to you, but listeners are going to be a little puzzled by the heavy breathing. Please treat the interview with the respect you want people to bring to listening to you talk about your work.
3. If you know your cell doesn’t get good reception, please figure out something else, even if you have to go sit in your car in a parking lot (the exception to rule 2, above). Landlines are often the best choice for clarity–plus they have the added benefit of encouraging you to sit down, stay put, and focus. Imagine how annoying it is for listeners if your voice cuts out in the middle of explaining how you use gesso in your work.
4. Now, I know this sounds ridiculous, but: if you’re doing an podcast or radio show, please do not eat, drink, chew gum, or go to the toilet. I have had people do all these things while I was talking to them on the phone, and it’s beyond annoying. I listened in amazement to the bathroom sounds and thought surely I was imagining things until the unmistakable flush of the toilet. We all know you’re a very busy person; we get that. Taking time to give your listeners your undivided attention is a gift you’re giving to the people who support you. Without them, well: nobody would be asking you for an interview in the first place, right?
5. If you’re live, be careful what you say. Something that sounds like a joke to you may not come across that way to listeners. I’ve listened to podcasts where the interviewer and the interviewee chatted away about their kids and lives as if they were sitting at the kitchen table, seeming to forget that there was anyone else listening. If you’re being recorded for a podcast to go live later, there’s not as much worry because things can be cut out in editing; but if you say something you wish you hadn’t said, tell the interviewer as soon as the podcast is over; do NOT wait until it goes live and then send a frantic email asking them to remove the crack about your sister-in-law. They will not be happy with you, and chances are good that that podcast will be trashed completely. Going back and editing a published podcast is really, really low on the list of Fun Things To Do. Most interviewers have no desire to play gotcha, and if the interview isn’t live, most will edit out parts that maybe don’t cast you in a great light. I try to cut out long pauses, stutters, coughs, lots of “and-um’s,” etc.
Having said all that, the main thing to remember is to relax and have fun. This is your chance to connect with people who like what you do and to connect in a way that’s more personal than on a blog or in a publication. They can hear how you sound, listen to you talk about what you love, and feel a real connection with you and your work.
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