Recently, I interviewed a number of media people to find out what advice they would give guests scheduled to appear on their programs. Although their backgrounds and listeners varied greatly, their answers wove a common thread: “Be entertaining!” “Be direct!” “Be enthusiastic!” “Be passionate!” “Be excited!” “Be animated!” “Be conversational!” “Be interesting!” “Be energetic!”
Communicating excitement is the number-one key to getting listeners or viewers interested in your book. If you’re not excited about your topic, why should they be?
Unfortunately, while most authors have mastered the art of turning a lively phrase on paper, many haven’t mastered the art of translating that energy for television or radio. It’s well known in talk-show circles that authors are rarely as exciting as their books. A number of talk shows refuse to book authors for this reason, or prescreen them intensely to ensure that they won’t put audiences to sleep.
The good news, though, is that you can learn to manufacture energy even if it’s not something that comes naturally to you. This takes time, and it takes practice. You didn’t publish the first draft of your book, did you? Of course not. Then why would you attempt an interview without preparation? Working on mock interviews with a professional media coach is very helpful, but you’re going to need more than a few hours of work if you’re serious about becoming a compelling guest who radiates enthusiasm.
Experiment with Inflections
Start your energy quest by using a cassette recorder (you can buy a cheap one and some cheap cassettes at Radio Shack or any number of electronics or office-supply stores if you don’t already own a recorder). Then grab any available reading material that appears even remotely thrilling. An exciting chapter of a favorite book, a groundbreaking newspaper or magazine article, or even an appealing children’s book are all great tools to start with.
Read the copy you’ve chosen a few times to become familiar with it. Then mark the areas where you need to add interest to your voice. You can use underlining for any words that need emphasis or inflection, a slash or two for areas that could use a dramatic pause, and up and down arrows for words that should be said louder or softer. The idea is to stay away from a monotone, and to become more aware of the ways in which you color your speech in normal conversation.
Then tape yourself reading this material. Immediately play the tape back and listen for enthusiasm. If you’re not a good judge of your own performance, have an objective friend or family member listen. Read and tape the same material many times until you’re able to convey the excitement and passion of the passage.
Once you’ve conquered the world of exciting storytelling, take that same copy, and tape yourself reading it in many different ways. You can convey happiness, sadness, confusion, fear, or any number of emotions with the same words, depending on how you say them. When you hear how different the exact same words can sound, you’ll never want to go back to drab speaking patterns again.
Belt It Out
Then try an exercise designed to loosen up those of you who have a difficult time relaxing, letting go, or speaking with sufficient volume. It’s easy to do and a lot of fun. Whenever you’re driving in your car or stuck with nothing to do around the house, just turn on the radio or CD player and sing along with your favorite high-energy tunes. Don’t be critical or try to judge how good you are. Just have a blast, sing your guts out, and get lost in the music.
After you’ve done that awhile, start practicing high-energy speaking. Read something–anything–with all the drama you can muster. You may think you sound fake or unnatural, but you should sound that way because it’s best to overdo it at first. Once you get used to sounding more energetic, you can back off a bit.
While you’re increasing your on-air energy level, the sticky note can be your best friend. When you’re going to be doing a radio interview, post tutorial reminders such as “sound excited,” “be energetic,” “speak faster,” and “have fun” someplace where you’ll be able to see them during the interview. Obviously this won’t work for TV, so it may be wise to get a number of radio interviews under your belt before attempting a visual medium.
It takes a long time for any new learning to become second nature, but eventually you’ll find yourself giving energetic interviews without even thinking about it.
Roberta Gale, whose programs have aired nationally on Westwood One Radio Networks and ABC Talk Radio Network, has hosted radio talk shows in every part of the country during the past 24 years. She is president of Roberta Gale Media Coaching, which provides media training to authors, experts, spokespeople, and businesses.