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What to Do When Interviews Make You Nervous

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PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2005

by Roberta Gale, President, Roberta Gale Media Coaching —


Everyone gets nervous doing something. The mere thought of getting on a roller coaster, even a kid’s one, makes my whole body feel as if it’s preparing for certain death. Some people can’t fathom getting within a quarter-mile of a cow without running away screaming. Other people are unable go to a mall without experiencing agoraphobia.

And then there are those who have an instant panic attack when I mention being a guest on a radio or TV program. These folks would rather bungee jump into the Grand Canyon without a safety harness than get behind a microphone. The people I’m talking about may not necessarily be shy or withdrawn. Even those with the gift of gab at parties can clam up and break into a cold sweat when they imagine being on the air.

If you recognize yourself in that last scenario, you do have an obstacle to deal with, but it is not insurmountable.


Breathing Lessons

The first step in your road to recovery is to learn how to use your diaphragm. No, not the birth control device (that’s out of my area of expertise), but the muscles at the midriff, between the breastbone and the belly button.

Start by standing or sitting up straight. Rest your hand lightly on your diaphragm and breathe in deeply. Imagine that you’re drawing in the air right through your lungs and on into your stomach. Feel the diaphragm muscles pushing out. Allow the chest to expand, but let the diaphragm muscles do all the work. Then breathe out slowly while feeling the muscles push in.

Practice this whenever you can–while watching TV, waiting in line at the bank, or at the fast-food drive-through. Over time, your diaphragm will develop and become as toned as any other muscle you exercise.

A well-developed diaphragm will not only make your voice stronger and more energetic, it will also keep you calm and centered during an interview. When we’re nervous, we tend to hyperventilate and breathe in shallowly from the top of the chest. This makes us feel as if we’re not getting enough air and causes the heart to beat faster. That begins a frightening chain of events that may culminate in an anxiety attack. And one of the worst places for this is happen is on the air in the middle of an interview.

Whenever you feel anxiety coming on during an interview, take some slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths. If you feel that as much air as you need is there for you, it will help calm you down. And the breaths themselves have a focusing effect. Trust me on this one (just because I’ve worked on-air for 22 years doesn’t mean I’m immune to nervousness).


Verbal Safety Nets

Being nervous is also a function of not knowing what to say or not knowing where to go next. If you keep a short, clear outline of your main points in front of you (or in your mind in the case of TV), you’ll have a safety net to rely on. It also helps to prepare more material than you think you’ll need, but beware of overpreparation. Do not write down and memorize everything word for word or you’ll become even more worried trying to remember it all.

Many people freeze, stutter, or panic when they’re asked a question they don’t know the answer to. If you don’t know the answer, admit it. Tell the host you can try to find out the answer later. Lying or attempting to make up an answer only serves to make you and the host uncomfortable.

And don’t feel you have to answer every question within a split second. If you need some time to gather your thoughts, or recover from a senior moment, it’s okay and very natural-sounding to take a beat. You can also prepare a few crutch lines in advance to use during these times such as, “I really have to think about that one,” “I never thought about that before,” or “What a great question. I really need to think this through.”

Practice will also help alleviate nervousness. Obviously it’s best to work on mock interviews with a media coach who will offer subjective, professional feedback. However, you can also give a list of questions to a friend, co-worker, or family member and have them “interview” you a number of times. Be sure to tape the interview each time so you can learn from listening to it.


The Concept Is Conversation

Nervousness also comes from the mistaken belief that on the air, you must play the role of the polished, slick, know-it-all guest. Nothing is more counterproductive or further from the truth. Throw out all your preconceived notions about playing a role that doesn’t fit who you are and simply be yourself. Realizing that you’re participating in a two-way, natural conversation can really calm you down.


Roberta Gale, whose programs have aired nationally on Westwood One Radio Networks and ABC Talk Radio Network, has appeared on the radio in major cities across the country for more than 24 years. She is president of Roberta Gale Media Coaching, which provides media training and publicity materials to authors, experts, spokespeople, and businesses. For more information, www.robertagale.com.

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