Sooner or later, if you do radio interviews, you’re going to encounter a bad interviewer. Bad interviewers do not know that they lack the skills to facilitate entertaining and interesting interviews. Of course, life would be easier if the bad interviewer wore a neon sign that you could see as soon as you walked into the studio, or if they emitted an irritating tone that you could hear as soon as you picked up the phone. But alas, this isn’t so. Therefore, I present a few tips on how to identify and deal with this unfortunately common species.
Bad interviewers are lazy.
Bad interviewers rarely, if ever, do preparation for their shows. Their programs are a never-ending yawn-fest of ill-prepared interviews without any original thought. They rely solely on press releases and the list of questions that you or your publicist have sent. They may give these materials only a glance minutes before your interview–or not at all.
You must compensate for the bad interviewer’s lack of preparation. How do you do this? By making a list of the most important, entertaining, and compelling ideas you want to get across and making sure you get those comments on the air. If the host doesn’t ask you the right questions, you must take control of the interview and volunteer the information yourself. For example, if the host doesn’t ask you about the natural cold remedies your book features, finish the answer to a question the host did ask and then say something like, “Joe, you know the cold season is upon us and a lot of people have told me they’ve been going broke buying zinc lozenges that don’t seem to help. Here’s how I fight colds without using over-the counter remedies….”
Bad interviewers ask many “yes” or “no” questions.
It’s up to you to make the most of your time on the air and to fill in the blanks even if you’re not asked to do so!A good interviewer will say something like, “Tell me a little bit about the evolution of your political background. I understand you were elected dogcatcher at fifteen. How did you get from there to the presidency?” This gives you material to work from. But a bad interviewer will start with “So, I guess you’re the President, huh?” (Believe me, I’ve heard worse.) You must be prepared to give an answer beyond a one-word affirmative. For example, “Yes, I am the President, but it was a long and fascinating road from dog catcher. I remember the first dog I caught….”
Bad interviewers may ambush you or trash your book/product.
These negative developments may take place during the interview even if the host or the producer seemed friendly and interested during your initial contacts. Good interviewers will sometimes (but not always) let you know in advance that that they don’t like your book or product, but they’ll still let you say your piece on the air. They know that the interview will be more entertaining and interesting with a guest who’s prepared for self-defense.
There’s no need to consistently be on the defensive, but you must always be prepared to deal with negative comments and attacks during an interview. Do this politely but firmly. Do not participate in a vicious argument with the host. It is the host’s show with loyal listeners and you will never win the fight. Even when dealing with a blowhard, know-it-all host, it is much better to say your piece, then to end the discussion with a “We’ll agree to disagree” than to allow yourself to be dragged into an argument.
Bad interviewers will interrupt you and be most interested in their own comments.
Many talk-show hosts are egotists in love with the sound of their own voices. If the host continually interrupts you, do not allow yourself to be intimidated. Say, in a friendly but firm manner, that you would like to be allowed to finish what you have to say because you know the listeners would like to hear it. If the host continues to interrupt you, just do your best to get a few words in edgewise. Make sure you use those few words to let listeners know that they can get the full story from your book, website, or 800 number. Remember… some airtime can be better than none at all.
Bad interviewers are bored with you and their shows.
With bad interviewers, you get the feeling that you are only there to fill time until they can go home. Therefore it’s up to youto make your interview interesting to the listeners, who are the people you really want to reach anyway.
Continually watch and/or listen for cues that a host is bored. Pay attention if the host:
- Makes no personal comments about your answers
- Appears to be reading the questions
- Asks questions that have no “flow” (in other words, they’re not based on anything you said previously)
- Pauses too often and for too long between your answer and the next comment or question
- Asks you questions that are too open-ended, such as “What do you want to say about X?” When this happens, chances are the host is half-asleep. In this case, turn the tables by asking some questions of your own. For example, if the topic is “incompetent doctors,” you could ask, “Have you ever had a doctor that you didn’t feel comfortable with?” or “When you go to the doctor, do you ask a lot of questions?”
These tips won’t magically change your bad interviewers into good ones. However, they will help you get some mileage from those interviews from hell, and at the very least, you’ll know how to keep the hosts awake.
Roberta Gale, President of Roberta Gale Media Coaching, has spent 22 years on the air in San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. She has hosted shows for ABC and was nationally syndicated by Westwood One radio networks. This article is adapted from a piece she did for “Talkers.” For more info, visit www.robertagale.com.