Preparing for the perfect interview

Posted by suzichristie on May 28, 2019

Two weeks ago  Paul Bates, Managing Director of Cleankill Pest Control, drove from his home in South London to Bristol to take part in a radio interview with Steve Yabsley on BBC Radio Bristol. He was on air for a grand total of 21 minutes and 59 seconds, and then he drove back to his office. Considering the journey to and from Bristol must have taken Paul at least six hours, you might very reasonably ask – why did he agree to do this?

The answer is that Paul knows the value of good publicity and he understands the best way to get your message across is to say it directly to the audience. Cleankill has recently taken over Bristol-based Good Riddance Pest Control and so Paul is keen for any opportunity he gets to spread the word about the great services Cleankill and Good Riddance offer to customers around Bristol, Bath, and Weston-Super-Mare.  To listen to his interview, click here.

Over the years, members of the Cleankill team have regularly appeared on TV and radio. They offer expert comment and opinion, while never heavily advertising their services. The key to their success is that they see this partly as promotion but also as a public service – giving audiences access to professional advice. For producers, this means they can be relied upon not to overtly ‘sell’ their services.

To interview or not to interview?

Unless there is a reason you don’t want to be heard or seen, we’d advise you to give serious consideration to every opportunity you get to be interviewed. Interviews are a great way to communicate your message to a large number of people. Whether it’s for radio or television, ‘down the line’ or face-to-face, this is an opportunity to get your message across clearly and without edit.

I’m nervous

It’s perfectly normal to be nervous but remember – it’s a conversation. You talk to friends and family all the time. This is no different, interviewers are trained to put you at ease, and they don’t want you falling apart on air. Unless you are a politician, it’s unlikely you will be subjected to a Paxman-style interrogation.

Also, don’t forget – you have time to think! You are under no pressure to instantly reply; take a second to consider your response as you would in a normal conversation. Listeners/viewers are interested in your responses, so they don’t want to see someone garble out a poorly thought-out answer. At the same time, the interviewer wants the conversation to flow naturally, not least because it makes them look better.

What to do when you get a request for an interview

Consider if the interview is right for you. With most of the requests we deal with, the answer is yes – but there may be cons alongside the pros. The first thing you should do is get the answers to a few simple questions. The producer will have answered these questions a thousand times and may even have pre-empted some of them during the initial request.

To help you make an informed decision, find out:

  • What is the interview about?
  • What do they want you to say?
  • What sort of programme is it?
  • Who will interview you?
  • When and where will it take place?
  • How long will the interview be?
  • Will it be live or pre-recorded?

You may also want to find out if other people are being interviewed in the same slot – or before you on the same topic.

The answers to these questions will give you some idea of what to expect. It may also be, if you work for a larger organisation, that another member of staff is better placed to handle the interview. For example, you may employ someone who is an expert on the particular subject the interviewer wants to talk about.  

How to prepare for an interview

As with all things, preparation is key:

Get the tone right. If possible, listen to an episode to get a feel for the style of the programme. You don’t want your answers to be heavy and technical if the programme is light-hearted.

Know what you’re talking about. If you are being invited on to talk about a particular subject, make sure you know about it. For example, Paul was recently interviewed by BBC Radio Sussex on the subject of rats at Lewes prison. Obviously, Paul knows about rats and rat-catching, but he did a little research into the prison and that gave him more authority in his answers. To listen to the interview, click here.

Be concise. Try to get your message across clearly and succinctly. This might require practise. Going back to the conversation analogy, you wouldn’t want to dominate a conversation because it will become a lecture and that isn’t pleasant for the listener. At the same time, if your answers are long and boring people will stop listening and you might sound like you are bluffing.

If you have key points you want to make, make sure you can state them clearly before you undertake the interview. Most audiences will also only take in two or three points from an interview, so limit the number of points you want to make.

Getting your message across. This takes practice. After a while you’ll learn there are always ways to get your message across, even if the interview isn’t going in the direction you want to go in. For example, you’ll often hear politicians using phrases like, “what's important to remember, however...", "but the real question here is …", or "let me put that another way…". These are techniques help to get the topic back to what you want to talk about, and which you feel more comfortable talking about.

Interviewing basics. It may be obvious but the first thing is to always be friendly. You may feel under threat during your first interviews and this may make you automatically defensive. This will come across as unfriendly. Since about 80% of communication is non-verbal, you’d be amazed how much of this negative attitude will transfer across the airwaves. If you want people to use your company, you want to make sure the audience knows you are friendly and likeable.

Feel comfortable. Wear clothing that makes you feel good and confident. Confidence, within certain boundaries, is far more attractive than shyness. Again, it’s non-verbal communication. If you are wearing a uniform, even a suit, that may be what you need to give you confidence – like hiding behind a costume.

Keep eye contact with the interviewer during a face-to-face interview. Remember, you are the expert, so there is no need to avert your eyes constantly. A good interviewer will give you the opportunity to answer the questions. If the interviewer is enquiring about difficult subjects, you are under no obligation to answer but the interviewer is under an obligation to keep the interview going.

With difficult topics or when you find yourself talking about something you don’t fully understand, it is always better to be honest and say, “that’s not an area I’m expert in”, than make up an answer. In the same way, if the interviewer has asked you a difficult question on a subject you want to avoid it is often better to say “I can’t comment on that” than try to muddle your way around the subject. The audience will at least hear you are in control.

Finally, Mrs Thatcher always insisted on being interviewed live. If you can, do the same thing. You have a much better chance of getting your message across because what you say can’t be edited. It may be edited for a later broadcast but at least you will have had one shot at saying exactly what you wanted. Again, preparation is key.

Also, if it is at all possible, travel to the studio to do the interview. A call down a phoneline doesn’t sound as good but more importantly, if you have been to the studio and made a good impression on the producer, they are more likely to invite you back. Being in the studio also means you will probably get more time on-air.

Finally, get a picture of you being interviewed in the studio. It looks great on social media and your website, and it shows you are a dynamic business. And promote the interview – before and after – on social media, so people who didn’t hear it can listen to you on catch-up.

Over the years, we’ve had plenty of experience conducting interviews, being interviewed, and prepping clients for interviews. If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us on 01323 449744 or by email suzi@blueberry-pr.co.uk