On Interviews, Scary, Wary, and Flair-y

In the last month I've done interviews several different ways, and in the course of things also had to be on the other side, interviewing a local celebrity for the newspaper. It got me thinking about the process, and you know by now that whatever I'm thinking, I write about here.

Least threatening are print interviews where an interviewer sends you a list of questions and you answer them at your leisure. You have time to reflect, change a word here and there, and think about what you most want readers to hear.

A bit more angst-inducing is the radio interview, where you could get a question that makes you stammer and grope or you could say something that you later wish you hadn't. Of course the interviewer is much more of an influence there, too, because he/she guides through questioning. Some interviewees are masters at bringing in what they want to say no matter what the question, but most of us feel we have to at least try to address the questions that are asked. Luckily, my interviewer (Don McCauley of The Author Show) asked ahead of time what subjects I'd like covered and was good about following my list.

The video interview is of course the most nerve-wracking, because now you add worries like how your hair looks, is the light reflecting off your glasses, and did your gums show when you smiled big during the introduction. I'm a gesturer, yet I know that constantly waving hands are distracting on camera, so I tried to minimize movement during my interview. Again I was lucky, the interviewer was friendly and good about helping me relax.( You can see it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jSpNR6LvLs.)

When I am the interviewer, I try to walk a line between what readers want to know with what that person wants the world to hear. For example, my subject might want to go on for ten minutes about economic conditions in a third world country, but realistically, I know most people will tune out after thirty seconds. I gently lead him back to why he chose this subject for his life's work. That's an important function for a good interviewer, moving things along when it's time.

Good interviews are tricky. Many are formulaic and dull, with only a few interesting spots. Some totally misrepresent the interviewee, while others become diatribes on his or her pet subject. Writers, in fact anyone up for an interview, should consider carefully beforehand their target ideas and emotions. What should the audience know about you? How do you want to come across? What can you do/say to create the impression you're going for? Remember, you have to live with the persona you create. While wearing a funny hat in a TV interview or claiming in print that you commune with the dead may make people remember you, it may also make them reject you. Pre-interview focus can prevent post-interview regret. And that's a good thing.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on April 10, 2009 at 1:43am
I love doing print interviews. And these days, I make sure I control the situation. No more unprepared interviews.
Comment by robert walker on April 9, 2009 at 11:46pm
Interviews are great; you have to be a media hound in this business and enjoy questions and be confident in who you are and just be yourself. Best advice do them and do them as often as you can until you are completely relaxed so that you can drop and give and interviewer % or 10 push ups ahhh I mean responses anytime anywhere anyhow. As with anything it takes practice. As for interviewing others, that too gets easier with use. I've been on both sides many times over and you gotta love it as it is a confidence boost just to have someone think you are "worthy" of an interview and by doing interviews of others, you learn just how interesting it all works. Best waay to learn anything is to "teach it to others" or to do it yourself, or both. Hey Peg, thanks for having me on tomorrow, Friday April 10th. Lookin forward to it.
Rob Walker
Dead On coming in July

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