I have written over 100 interviews for Authority magazine and it has been a terrific experience…for the most part. I qualify that statement because for every 20 excellent, inspiring responses I get at least one dud. I provide the questions via email in advance, and the criteria is very clear. For example, one of my series is called, “5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A CEO.” The query (a request that goes out to PR firms, and individuals from a website) is very clear as to the demographics, in this case it’s part of a series on powerful women. So I am stymied at why a man who is not a CEO would answer the query. So it is in complete self interest that I offer these tips for giving interviews to reporters:
- Be Genuine. There is no greater way to make you look good in print than to be your authentic self. When you are being genuine it helps the reader connect with you on a personal level; people feel like they know you and empathize with you. Even a third grader can spot malarkey, so pretending to be someone you aren’t will get the reader to stop reading the article the moment it is detected.
- Fit the Demographic. If the query is asking for people with experience in animal control and you are the three-time hot-dog eating champion, don’t submit a response to this particular query. You won’t see print and you will aggravate the reporter.
- Follow Instructions. Too often my time is wasted by someone who fails to follow the basic instructions. At this moment I have 200 interviews that I have to finish in a month. Nothing makes me happier than to open one and find that they haven’t written their bio in the third party, or have otherwise ignored the directions. I simply send my editor a note: “needs attention:” followed by the reason. For the most part the people don’t resubmit because they often don’t want to follow the directions. Furthermore if I ask you for the five things you wish you knew before…don’t give me three, or one, or seven. If you insist on ignoring the request, at least qualify your responses, for example, you might say, “I could give you a hundred, but I would like to distill it down to the three that I find most important.”
- Don’t Change the Questions to Suit Your Agenda. This is an interview, not a press release. You don’t get to decide the topics we cover, I DO. Changing the questions, or the title to suit yourself makes you come off as a boorish, arrogant, social maladroit. I suppose if that’s the public image you want to project than go for it, but don’t hold your breath waiting for me or the magazine to promote your interview.
- Answer all the questions. You may have questions that have you stumped, and that’s okay, but rather than not answering the question, answer it something like “Wow, that question really has me stumped, I’m sure if I thought about it long enough, I might be able to come up with something but right now I can’t think of anything” or “that has not been my experience” as opposed to “N/A” or removing the question altogether. The former responses endear you to the reader, while the latter make you come of like a self-important jerk. I don’t routinely ask questions that I, and my readers, don’t want an answer to, so do your best to at least explain why you can’t or won’t answer a question.
- Share. One question I usually ask is for the person I am interviewing to share a funny mistake they made and what they learned from it. Many people just omit this and one person just responded with a curt, “I don’t think my mistakes are funny.” So in the case of the person who doesn’t answer the question the reader is left to infer that the person interviewed thinks that he or she is perfect and in the case of the “I don’t think my mistakes are funny” the reader can only imagine the person as someone so insecure that they can’t laugh at their mistakes. But let us take the person at his or her word, depending on the mistake people may have been harmed and it isn’t funny, but there is a second part of that question, “and what did you learn from it?” So the answer comes off as “I cannot laugh at my imperfections and I don’t learn from them either”. Is this really what you want to communicate.
- Recognize that We’re On the Same Side. As a reporter I am not looking to make you look bad, I want us both to succeed. If, when you receive the questions, you decide that the questions paint you in a negative light, simply decline the interview. Neither of us gains by having an adversarial approach to the interview so what’s the point of coming at it from a negative perspective.
- Proofread. Your written responses are essentially my reporter’s notes and I may clean up grammatical and spelling errors, but that does NOT make me your editor. Once it leaves my outbox it goes to an editor, who is also not your proofreader. If it makes you feel any better most people blame me for any errors in the article so you can relax a bit.
- Don’t make up words to try to sound smart. I used to work for a person who said, “irregardless” often. He thought it made him sound smart. The verb form of “orientation” is “orient” not “orientate”. One cannot simply add “ate” to the end of a noun to make it a verb or worse yet use a noun as a verb. I may sound like grammar cop but if I write a piece filled with your brain-addled word-salad it makes me look dumber than you, maybe even more so.
- Be conversational. People tell me that they enjoy my writing because it feels like they are having a conversation with me. Some of the best interviews I have done were done exclusively by email, and the more conversational the response the brighter you’ll shine. The readers know that interviews are promotional in nature so you don’t have to hit them over the head with your product or service. Conversing with the reporter makes you come off the page and into the reader’s heart, and THAT is the best promotion you could ever ask for.
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com