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Steps for Success With a High-Stakes Interview

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by Julia Schopick, Author and Book Promotion Consultant —

Julia Schopick

Here, author and book promotion consultant Julia Schopick shows you how to prepare so you don’t bomb your big-time media moment.

In previous columns for IBPA Independent, I’ve written about how radio interviews are an especially effective way to sell nonfiction books with an important, “change-the-world” message. In “Taking to the Waves: Using Radio to Get the Word Out,” I gave independent authors a radio interview roadmap, stressing a) why radio interviews are important; b) how to choose the best shows for you; and c) how to be a good guest. One of the prerequisites I wrote about in that column was to provide effective questions and answers for the interviewer. In “Good Q&As in Your Media Packet Lead to Better Interviews,” I told you how to do that.

I assumed that the combination of these two columns would suffice to make you an excellent interviewee. And, in most cases—but not all—I still believe that to be true.

As you know from my previous columns, I have been a guest on more than 200 talk shows, and I am an avid radio talk show listener. After learning about one independent author’s book about a controversial and important health care topic, I was excited to find out that she would be appearing on one of my favorite high-profile national radio shows. This author had been a consummate guest on more than 20 shows, so I was confident she’d knock this interview out of the park. As I listened to the show, my excitement turned to shock.

The author was, frankly, terrible. She coughed frequently, and her thinking appeared muddled. Her responses were filled with unexplained jargon, something I hadn’t noticed in her previous interviews. She could have used simple, clear language and been a compelling guest-one who would be sure to be invited back. Her performance was so bad she was not invited back for the second half of the show. (The station’s promotion of the show had promised a two-part interview.)

What made this usually articulate talk show guest—this author of a very important book—perform so badly? Although I don’t know her personally, I think the answer is obvious: She panicked. Realizing that this show has millions of listeners, her normal pre-show jitters morphed into terror.

This led me to think that, while the tips I shared in my previous columns are certainly valuable, it is essential to offer some tips on how to sail smoothly through a high-stakes interview.

How might I have coached this author to ace her interview?

1. Prepare Questions and Answers

We would have created a questions-and-answers document. As I pointed out in my previous columns, an effective Q&A condenses the essence of the book into 10-12 pages of carefully crafted questions and answers, filled with fascinating stories, and devoid of boring numbers and jargon. These Q&As would have served as a roadmap for both host and author.

The best thing about providing Q&As to prospective hosts beforehand is that the author has better control of the interview. You can choose which parts of your book you want to stress on the air, and which questions you want to be asked. Of course, there is no guarantee that this host would have strictly adhered to this author’s Q&As, but it is likely he would have. In my experience, I have provided Q&As for my book, HONEST MEDICINE, to over 200 hosts, and over 100 have used them. (See my Q&As here.)

Having effective Q&As gives a guest the confidence that their answers will have power. This confidence, in turn, helps authors remain relaxed and on-point throughout any interview-even a high-stakes interview like this one.

2. Pre-Interview Rehearsals

I would have conducted a series of mock interviews with the author, using our Q&As to guide us. In my previous columns, I advised authors to have a friend or coach rehearse you. However, for high-stakes interviews, I highly recommend you use a professional coach who knows what makes a great guest. It is also best if your coach has had personal on-air experience.

How would the rehearsal process go?

Once we had her Q&As in excellent shape, so that both of us were satisfied, we would conduct our first mock interview. Using a phone conversation recording system—my personal favorite is freeconferencecalling.com—I would play host, asking the questions and guiding her through her answers. And as I stressed in my first IBPA column, I would instruct her not to give her answers verbatim but rather to adopt an easy, natural, and conversational approach to answering the questions.

Whenever this author/client would use jargon or say something that could have been stated more clearly or more eloquently, we would stop the conversation and search for a better, clearer explanation. Then, I’d ask the question again, and my author/client would answer it again-this time, hopefully, more clearly. If not, we’d go through the process again.

After this sometimes arduous first mock interview was completed, I would have the audio transcribed, including the corrections and “re-dos.”

I would then send both the audio recording and the transcription to my client, instructing her to both listen to the recording and read the transcription several times. Then, we’d go through the mock interview process again, as often as needed, until the urge to use jargon is gone, the entire interview flows seamlessly, and my client has achieved both professionalism and confidence.

Now, she would be “ready for prime time”!

Does this method guarantee a flawless interview? Of course not. But I can guarantee that this author would be far less likely to panic, cough, or revert to confusing jargon.

If she had been thoroughly prepared for this high-stakes interview, I’m confident this author would have sailed through the interview, made her case clearly and eloquently, and, ultimately, she would have achieved her objective: to educate the show’s listeners and motivate them to buy her book.

Julia Schopick is the best-selling author of HONEST MEDICINE: Effective, Time-Tested, Inexpensive Treatments for Life-Threatening Diseases. She coaches other authors on how to use promotional techniques effectively. To learn about her coaching service, go to HonestMedicineCommunications.com. Write to her with questions, or to take advantage of her complimentary 15-minute book promotion consultation, at Julia@HonestMedicine.com. She looks forward to hearing from IBPA members.

To learn more about interviews, check out this IBPA Independent article, “What to Do When Interviews Make You Nervous.”

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