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Preparing for an Interview
by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Return to Public Speaking · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Congratulations: You've received an invitation to be interviewed. Now what?

Most authors agree that it's worth doing some preparation for the interview. Having an idea of what to expect will help calm pre-interview jitters and also contribute to a giving a confident and professional impression during the interview itself.

"Be prepared beforehand, know what kinds of questions they will be likely to ask so you won't get tongue-tied," suggests Josh Aterovis. "I've been told it's even a good idea to write it down so you get to say exactly what you want to say."

Some questions to ask an interview before a radio or television interview:

  • How long will the interview be?
  • Will there be a studio audience?
  • Will it be live or pre-recorded?
  • Will there be a Q&A call-in period? Is there a studio audience?
  • Do you need any background information before the interview?

Listen to the radio or television show to get an idea of what kind of interviewing style to expect. If you're doing a written interview, read past interviews.

When Karen Mueller Bryson was asked to do a radio interview, the interviewer asked for an advance list of questions that Bryson wanted him to ask, which gave her a chance to prepare answers. "He did use my questions as a 'starting point' and then asked me other things that flowed naturally in conversation," said Bryson. He also warned her that there would be a Q&A period where callers could ask questions, and he encouraged her to ask friends and colleagues to call in.

Don't count on your memory for relevant information about your book or publications. Take notes with you with any information that you think might or should come up in the interview. Kathleen (no last name given) suggests preparing by creating a list of potential questions and then practise answering them.

During the interview

There are basically two types of interviews: live and written.

Live interviews. In a live interview, you are answering the questions as soon as they are asked. You can find live interviews on television, radio, and online chats. Live interviews tend to be more exciting for the audience because they are aware that the interviewee is being put on the spot, presumably with no opportunity to prepare their answers ahead of time. For an author, the disadvantage is that there is often little opportunity to think about your answers before presenting them, and therefore more opportunity to say something you might regret later on. This is where doing as much advance preparation as you can will come in helpful.

If you're doing an online chat, find out if the the chat transcript is going to be archived and publicly available. If it is, be aware that everything you say in the chat room could be accessible by anyone, perhaps forever. It's even more important not to share confidential or personal information, and to refrain from stating facts or figures unless you are sure they are accurate.

Thomas Wictor says the most important advice for a writer about to be interviewed is to relax, "Pretend you don't care how you come across. Imagine that everybody in the world is deeply in love with you and doesn't give a hoot if you stumble and hesitate and try too hard. Remind yourself that in 500 years, nobody will care about this interview anyway. Try to take it for what it is: an opportunity to sell your product."

For online chats, Cindy Vallar offers the following advice:

  • Attend chats in the same environment as the one in which your chat will take place, before your chat. This way you can become familiar with the environment and format beforehand.

  • Arrive at the chat room about five minutes before your chat is supposed to begin. That will give you a chance to make sure your connection is fine, and you can greet everyone as they enter. This also gives people chance to chat with you informally before the official chat session begins.

  • Be sure to ask the chat organizer if there is any specific chat protocol. Can everyone speak at once, for example, or will there be a queue of questions forwarded by the chat moderator? Do people have to signal that they have a question? If so, how? How should you signal that you're finished answering a question?

  • Write your answers in short segments, hitting ENTER after each segment, so that those attending the chat don't experience a long lag in response and therefore could wonder if you received the question.

  • Don't get too frazzled if you lose your connection during a chat. "It does happen," says Vallar. Just log in again (you may need to use a different login name), reintroduce yourself or say "I'm back" when you re-enter the room.

  • If you can spare the time, linger after the chat session to answer other questions and for some informal chat.

Josh Aterovis was interviewed by IM (Instant Messenger) and said it was somewhat confusing at first. He advises those being interviewed this way to save a copy of the chat for later perusal, with a possible chance to correct or clarify before the interview is published.

Written interviews. There are two types of written interviews. In one type, you are interviewed first and then the interview is written up for later publication. Unless an author has the opportunity to edit or approve the final interview (which is rare), this type generally has similar advantages and disadvantages as a regular live interview, except that the interview ends up in print and therefore if you did say anything you regretted later, you have more opportunity to agonize.

In the other type of written interview, the questions are given by surface mail or e-mail and you respond in kind. The advantage of this type of interview is obviously the fact that you have time to think about each question before responding to it, and have the opportunity to edit your own answers before sending them in. The main disadvantage (or advantage, depending on how you look at it) is that the onus tends to be on you to provide a good interview.

Read other interviews in the publication to get a feeling for what kind of style they prefer. Conversational with short answers? Q&A with longer mini-essay answers? Unless you know the publication prefers it, try to answer in a conversational (but not slang) style rather than formal, letting some of your personality show through.

Avoid using emoticons (like smileys :-)). While fine in casual e-mail between friends, not everyone uses or understands them. You're a writer; force yourself to convey emotional nuances in words, not shortcuts.

Remember that written interviews tend to be more easily accessible than live interviews, and also are more likely to be archived for long periods of time. Be sure to proofread your answers for grammar and spelling mistakes before sending them back; don't count on the interviewer correcting them before they're published!

After the interview

Send a note to the interviewer or producer of the program or site or publication, thanking them for the opportunity of being interviewed. Try to get a copy of the interview for your archives.

Even an interview for a small circulation publication can be useful for an author who has not yet accumulated many publication credits. Ask for permission to reprint the interview for use in your Web site or including in your press kit. If publication is online and prefers that you link to the interview on their site as well, be sure make a copy of the interview text for your personal files, just in case the publication folds or the interview is eventually taken offline.

Mentally review your performance in the interview. What went right? What went wrong? If anything went wrong, how can you work to prevent it from happening next time?

Find Out More...

Speak Up for Your Writing - Donnell King

Speaking Without Butterflies - Moira Allen

What to Do When Someone Interviews You - Moira Allen

When Authors Engage in Public Speaking - Patricia Fry

Copyright © 2003 Debbie Ridpath Ohi
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is a freelance writer living in Ontario. Visit her website at http://debbieohi.com/.


Copyright © 2019 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
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