If I hear the phrase: “We provide best-in-class, customer-facing solutions in the media and entertainment space,” one more time, I’m gonna poke someone with a fork! (See the Glossary at the bottom for a translation of this sentence.)
As host of the Digital Production Buzz for the last five years, I’ve interviewed more than 600 industry executives. I write this from my hotel room in Las Vegas where the NAB trade show just ended. During the last four days, I interviewed more than 100 industry executives for The Buzz for our NABShowBuzz.com special coverage.
Some guests could not complete a clear English sentence, and others were sweating so much from sheer terror that I felt sorry just asking them their name. If you, or someone you know, works in a position where they are likely to be interviewed, this blog is for you.
WHAT AN INTERVIEW IS NOT
An interview is not “60 Minutes.” It is not an inquisition. I am not going to ask if you have absconded with company funds, lied on your tax returns, or if you are shacking up with the vice president’s wife.
An interview is a chance for you to explain to the world at large what’s great about your company’s products. And answer questions that a typical user might have. In other words, you already know everything you need to know for the interview. So here are ten simple rules you need to keep in mind to make a success of any interview.
LARRY’S TEN RULES FOR SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEWS
1. Who Are You. Be able to explain what your company does in a single, succinct paragraph. You get BONUS points if you can avoid using words like: “solutions,” any acronym with more than three letters, or hyphenated-techno-speak. If you can’t explain it in English, no one listening will understand you.
2. Why You. Be able to explain why your product is better. Your potential customers are comparing you to your competition, give them some reasons to consider you.
3. Explain Yourself. Interviews are conversations, don’t give yes or no answers. I had one guest today that answered “yes” or “no” to every question I asked, regardless of how I phrased my questions. I guarantee I won’t be inviting that company back on the show.
4. Have a Story. Come prepared to explain how your product works in the real-world. Nothing makes a product more approachable than an example of how it is successfully used. I had a great interview with a CEO of a lens company. We started talking about how lenses were made and he told a fascinating story of how different varieties of glass can influence how a lens handles light. Very cool. I moved him into a more prominent position in the show based on that one story.
5. Relax. Interviews are not life-threatening. No one, I repeat, NO ONE has died during an interview. Go with the flow. If the host is serious, be serious. If the host is cheerful, be cheerful. Enthusiasm is the single best characteristic to bring to an interview. If you can’t get excited about your product, no one else will either. Let your personality out a bit – feel free to be excited.
6. Don’t Upstage the Host. For me, my guests are the stars. But not all hosts are like that. Take time to figure out what the host wants: stories, high-level strategic positioning, nuts-and-bolts tech, etc. Your goal is to get invited back – more visibility is a good thing – not to prove that you are funnier/smarter/weirder than the host.
7. Know Your Product. I had four different guests during NAB that had only been with their company for a month or so. They didn’t know their prices. They didn’t know their features. They didn’t know how their product worked. And they won’t be invited back. Bring notes, but don’t read from them. This is a conversation, not a lecture.
People that listen to technology programs are after solid, reliable, practical information they can use to make purchasing decisions. Talking strategy is fine – but be ready to roll-up your sleeves and explain the best way to use your gear, tricks to make it run faster, and optimal systems to make it run great.
8. Talk to Your Audience. In fact, just speak English. You don’t need to dumb it down, but if you can’t explain it without using a sentence containing more than two acronyms, then practice explaining it until you can.
9. Don’t Sneak in a Commercial. Any competent host will give you time to promote your website at the end of the segment. Don’t keep trying to weasel in a commercial in the middle. It breaks the flow and sounds unnecessarily self-promoting. Also, figure out the ONE BEST place to send people. Don’t do a litany of website – Twitter – Facebook – Linked-In – Email address – post office box – phone number – booth number – and physical address. You’ll only get edited or, worse, not invited back. Drive people to your website. Keep it simple.
10. Focus on Your Message. The host has a goal: create an engaging interview filled with interesting information. You need a goal, too. And it ISN’T “buy my products.” No one buys a product based on an interview. Instead your interview goal needs to be “make my products so interesting and compelling that people have to check out my website to learn more.”
Give me and my audience an interesting, compelling interview, filled with intriguing facts and presented by someone that is enthusiastic and I guarantee listeners will beat a path to your website to learn more.
Let me know what you think. (Also, read the article sent in by Michael Cox on how to be a great interviewer.)
Ever wonder what the marketing words mean? Here’s how to translate the code:
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9 Responses to 10 Rules to Be a Successful Interview Guest
Great insights, Larry. Would it be a good idea to send this list to potential interviewees in advance of a shoot or would they think I was being condescending? I would be tempted to send your “Glossary,” too.
It isn’t condescension if you give this article to help them do better. Just be polite when you suggest it. The purpose of this article is to point out common traps people fall into. Consider this a map on how to get out.
GREAT list, Larry!
I really will be using this and also sending to interviewees ahead of time. For different types of interviews (non-tech, etc.), I’ll add a bit of an addendum to each point to help them feel more comfortable.
The majority of my time doing a taped interview is getting the guest to feel comfortable on camera.
P.S. very cool feature on your blog allowing readers to “Subscribe without commenting.” Is it a plugin of some sort?
Could you do a list of tips for the person conducting the interview? I interview people every day, mostly for corporate films, and although I have my own system and techniques it would be interesting to hear yours.
Sure. You’ll find it here:
Here’s one more for the glossary:
“Our product was designed to be easy to use.” Okay, you designed it that way, but did you succeed? Is it actually easy to use? You’re not telling us that!
Thanks Larry, This makes for an excellent (mental) checklist. Im printing this out now as a reference. Great job.
Re: “No one, I repeat, NO ONE has died during an interview.”
Well, there was J. I. Rodale of Prevention magazine who died of a heart attack just after being interviewd by Dick Cavett. But your point is mostly true 🙂
Great checklist for the one being interviewed. I’m surprised “synergy” wasn’t mentioned 🙂
See???? That was AFTER, and, therefore my statement remains true. 🙂
“Synergy,” ah yes, that had fallen blessedly out of mind. It is generally equivalent to: “before the layoffs start.”