What Every Author Should Know About Radio and Television Interviews

If you are a published author—or plan to be one—you will inevitably be asked to appear on a radio, television, or Internet show to talk about your book. It’s critical that you learn to do this well. Assuming you have written a good book, nothing drives sales of it more than publicity.

Close Up of a Microphone and On the Air Sign - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Graffizone, Image #7629279

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Graffizone

I was personally thrown into the deep end of the pool with my first book. In the course of eighteen months, I did over 1,200 interviews. I appeared on all three major television networks plus CNN, as well as national and local radio and television. During that time, I went through three rounds of professional media training. It was total immersion. Baptism by fire.

More recently, I have sat on the other side of the table, interviewing authors. I have hosted the Chick-fil-A Leadership Backstage program for the last two years where I have had the privilege of interviewing the speakers after they spoke. In addition, I routinely interview authors for my own blog. Sadly, while most authors spend a lot of time honing their writing skills, very few hone their interviewing skills. As a result, their books do not sell as well as they should.

Therefore, based on my experience as both an interviewee and an interviewer, I would like to offer ten suggestions for improving your interview skills:

  1. Prepare thoroughly for the interview. Before the publication of each book, I have identified all the questions I might be asked. I have then written 3–4 talking points in response to each question. I don’t write out the answer verbatim; that would sound too canned. I then prepare a “Briefing Book,” using a three-ring binder with one tab per chapter. Behind each chapter, I put the relevant talking points, statistics, and illustrations. I ad lib from that.
  2. Remember that the show is not about you. This is a big mistake many rookie authors make. You are not the star of the show. The host is—or perhaps more accurately—the audience is. You are there to help them get what they want. Your job is to keep them interested in the topic, so they don’t change the dial. This is key to the producer keeping his or her advertisers happy.
  3. Understand the audience. You can’t help the audience get what they want unless you understand them. Television shows, radio shows, and Internet shows are used to providing demographic and psychographic information to their advertisers. You can cut right to the chase by asking the producer or the booker for this information. In addition, before interview begins, it is a good idea to ask the producer if there is anything in particular you should know about the audience.
  4. Don’t expect the interviewer to have read your book. Many first-time authors complain that the interviewer didn’t read their book. Trust me: this is the norm. Assume that the interviewer hasn’t read your book, and you won’t be disappointed. And whatever you do, don’t embarrass them on-air by asking! Instead, make the host look smart by providing the producer with a list of questions to ask. Nine times out of ten, they will ask you these exact same questions.
  5. Be able to explain what your book is about in a few sentences. Many authors cannot do this. They have never crafted an “elevator pitch.” Here’s the concept: You get on the elevator of the NBC building in New York City. You suddenly discover that the producer for The Today Show is standing next to you. Being polite, she asks what your book is about. You have 10 floors to tell her—about three sentences. You need to write this out and memorize it. It should be no more than 2–3 sentences.
  6. Listen carefully to the questions. It is easy for authors to become anxious and interrupt the host. This is never a good thing. Plus, you might find yourself answering the wrong question. Make sure that you let the interviewer finish. Then affirm the question. Even if it is combative, you can say something like, “I totally understand where you are coming from. In fact, I had that same concern when I first started researching this book.” Then answer the question—don’t dodge it.
  7. Keep your answers brief and to-the-point. There is nothing worse than a rambling author who is missing the interviewer’s cues. The host keeps trying to interject a point or “bring the plane in for a landing.” Perhaps the producer has already queued the music, but the author keeps right on talking. This is not good. A good interview is like a ping pong match: the interviewer hits the ball over the net. The author then gets in position and hits it back, starting the cycle all over again. In addition, you need to speak in sounds bites.
  8. Be energetic and authentic. From the interviewer’s perspective, there is nothing worse than a low energy, superficial interview. Instead, you must be energetic. If you are not excited about your book, how do you expect anyone else to be? If you are doing a phone-in radio interview, stand up. Walk around. Smile. Even though your audience won’t see any of this, they will hear it in your voice. Believe me, it makes a difference.
  9. Don’t become defensive. Don’t expect the interviewer just to throw you softballs. His job is to keep it interesting for his audience. Nothing is more interesting than conflict. You should expect tough questions and a little drama. This can actually help you win over the audience—if you have done your homework, and if you remain calm under fire. Resist the urge to become defensive. It only makes you look weak. Instead, agree where you can agree. Follow the feel-felt-found formula: “I know how you feel. I felt the same way. But here’s something I found in my research.”
  10. Refer listeners back to your book. This is the art of the soft-sell. Publicity doesn’t do you any good if you don’t point people back to your book. If you’re too aggressive, it will turn potential readers—and the host—off. If you are too laid back, the publicity won’t result in sales. Instead, mention the title, offer a few nuggets or “free samples,” and then refer people to the book for more information. For example, “In my book, The Dance, I provide seven tips for resolving marital conflict. We don’t have time to get into all of those right now, but let me give you the first two.”

Writing a great book is half the job. The other half is embracing your role as the book’s chief spokesperson. If you do this well, you have a chance of creating a long and successful writing career.

Question: What other advice would you give to authors about doing radio and television interviews? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    In Point eight about being energetic, you offer some excellent practical advice for a phone interview, which probably happens more often than a person would think. I suppose it’s a good idea to keep your cell phone battery charged during those times as well (if that’s the number used for the interview). I tend to converse better on the move anyway so this advice plays to my preference. I suppose you can’t do that in a radio sound room or on the set of a television program.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That is correct.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    Great post for interview prep. It sounds like waltzing with the interviewer. Listen and watch for all the verbal and nonverbal cues. Seems that this is about answering the audience’s question “What value will this book add to my life?” I’m sure I come back to re-read this article when that time comes for me!

  • Al Pittampalli

    Michael, this is a fantastic list. I’m glad you endorsed mentioning your book. I’m always a little hesitant to do so, but it’s clear we need to be assertive (but not too pushy) if we want to drive attention to our book or site. Thanks.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. That’s why you are there. The interviewer knows that and—if he or she has done his job—the audience knows that. That is the quid pro quo of interviews: they provide the audience; you provide the content.

  • http://www.jondale.com Jon Dale

    Great post Mike.  Here’s another great resource: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/05/how-to-be-interviewed.html

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jon. That is an excellent resource.

  • Pat Katepoo

    Most of these terrific tips apply to interviews with print journalists, too.  They’ll love you if you dish them pithy sound bites that makes writing their newspaper or magazine feature story easier. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Very good point, Pat.

  • Kathleendonovan

    What I have to offer here is the advice I give guests every week on the job as a televison interviewer and producer ( we do not do stories on authors LOL): consider this a conversation; be yourself.
    In advance I will suggest that the guest not wear stripes, white or polka dots. As another person mentioned it’s important to wear appropriate clothing for the environment. You being comfortable in this situation is key. It’s difficult to relax until you’ve done it a hundred times, so make sure you’re not feeling like tugging on your jacket or skirt and of course remember that the interviewer is just a person, a curious person who wants to educate his or her audience while helping you promote your book.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kathleen. Excellent advice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laura-Krämer/100001481863376 Laura Krämer

    I have to admit I held my breath as I read this post. Having gone through several radio interviews for our business I was expecting to have great regrets on my “performance.” Thankfully, I can look back and be pleased. The one thing I did learn from your post was to extend grace. I could tell when an interviewer was familiar with me and my product and when they were not. I know now it is the norm. I did find on a couple of occassions they knew too much–which left me somewhat out of material–but I rode the wave and it all turned out fine.

    Thanks for a great and helpful post. I will keep this one for future reference. I imagine book interviews will be far different than products interviews…

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    It’s hard for me at this stage of the game to imagine ever having even one interview! However, you never know, it’s better to be prepared right?! I bookmarked this page, I think it’s great advice. Actually I think it’s advice that applies across the board in communication of all types.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I think it applies in a variety of situations.

  • Jmhardy97

    Very informative post. I do interviews from time to time and you shared some great practices.

  • http://sheridanvoysey.com Sheridan Voysey

    Some brilliant thoughts, Michael. I have interviewed dozens of authors over the years (the last count was over 2000 interviews), and been a interview guest myself over my own titles.

    I would add two things to the conversation here:

    1. Answer succinctly. A short answer allows the interviewer to ask more questions. Now, don’t make your answer so short that it sounds clipped and impersonal, but work on a comfortable 60 seconds per question. This can go longer if you are a great story teller, but no more than 2’30″. A succinct answer will get more questions asked, more info out on you and your book, keep the interview pacy and so keep the host engaged.

    2. Be careful on mentioning your book during the interview. This is an interview, not an advertorial. We have declined top-tier guests a return on our shows after they’ve crossed the line by mentioning their book’s title every second answer. A good host will do a ‘reset’ every few minutes (‘This is [show name] and I’m talking to [your name], author of the book [such and such]‘), plus a wrap about you at the beginning and end of the interview. If the host doesn’t do this, then do mention the book’s title naturally in the conversation a couple of times.

    I can tell you that hosts and producers love interview guests that are informed, prepared, knowledgeable of the show’s audience and good communicators – as Michael’s points above describe so well.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Sheridan. These are both great points.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for the professional tips to encounter book interviews to aspiring authors like me.

  • http://ShannonsStudio.com Shannonportfolio

    Very good info. Do you have a link to an interview of yours so that I can listen and hear what you’ve suggested in practice?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yep. Here is one. Here is another.

  • http://ShannonsStudio.com ShannonStudio

    Very good info. Do you have a link to an interview of yours so that I can listen and hear what you’ve suggested in practice?

  • Linda Johnson

    Sound information.  Thank you.

  • Linda Johnson

    What color should I wear on television?  I understand, that extra pounds appear on the screen.    Maybe, baby blue?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, baby blue is a great color.

  • Pastordharris

    Thank you! Very helpful to me as a new author to the “interview game”! Will make the adjustments needed! Thanks again.

  • http://missionsuntold.com Jordanmonson

    Great advice Michael. I’ve noticed a lot of blunders but have never been able to put my finger on what was awkward about the interview. Should I ever be published, I’ll come back to this post! 

  • http://twitter.com/DrDaltonSmith Saundra Dalton-Smith

    Where was this post 1 months ago when Set Free to Live Free (Revell)  first released! I’m now 20 interviews into the process and wishing I had this great information in the beginning. My tip for anyone new to radio interviews would be “Relax!” Stress comes across on the air. Find a way to unwind and get calm before the interview. My second tip would be to enjoy the process! A publisher liked your work, now others in media want to share what you know with their audience. How cool is that!! Enjoy the chance to share topics you are passionate about with others!

  • Melissa – Mel’s World

    Wow…absolutely love this! Thanks for the great tips and insight! ~ Melissa

  • Pam

    For newer radio hosts, some times we the guest need to help them look good. If they ask an awkward question, look stressed, seem uninformed, help them out by paraphrasing their question into one you can answer, and if possible compliment them or connect to them and their life in a way that brings them in or makes him or her look good. I have gained favor by being a champion of the host, I see it is part of my role as a guest to help him or her succeed (even if they have not read my book or even my bio!) ) I learned long ago that good manners is helping people feel welcome and at ease– and media hosts are some of the most stressed people I know. It is a cut throat biz and I have found if I care for the host, on and off air, he or she might want me back again. Sometimes, even after I am off air, I might follow up with him or her and send a personal note, a book or resource (maybe not even my own but one to help him or her in some way), or an article or sidebar/sound bite that might be helpful  from my website (www.Love-wise.com) for a future show or  as back up info if they find themselves with 2 min of dead air sometime . . .  In any case, caring for him or her FIRST, is I think, what Jesus would want me to do– love the  host, as Jesus would.  

  • http://www.Love-wise.com Pam

    Michael, you might want to do a post on what to wear on TV– I find that more stressful than what to say!!!! The joke is “the camera adds 10 pounds, so how many cameras has she been sitting in front of?!” Thanks for all your great info– I benefited (Bill and I) as authors at Thomas Nelson when you were there– and we are always blessed and encouraged and equipped by your blog! thanks! Big prayers for grand success as a freelancer!

  • http://www.kimketola.com Kim Ketola

    Michael–great advice! I produced and hosted talk shows on both general market and Christian stations. My pet peeve was the author who didn’t understand that he or she had been invited for their expertise! To paraphrase the apostle Paul, “A book should not give you a spirit of timidity, but instead a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind”–especially if you are a Christian writer with God’s message of truth. So be bold in proclaiming what you know.

    Be encouraged that if  you make it through all the editorial reviews to actually get invited to be interviewed, the team that asked you to appear on the air expects you to be confidently knowledgeable about your topic, and able to convey it in a memorable way–apart from your book. The reality is that the host most likely has not read every word of your book–nor has anyone listenting. Think of an interview as a conversation in which your goal is to stimulate the appetite by the content you impart.

    And don’t shy away from using your best wordsmithing! Way too many times I was drawn by great chapter titles and pithy sub-heads, but in conversation, the author rambled. Use your own key phrases–but artfully, without mentioning that you’ve said it before.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good advice, Kim. Thanks.

  • C.P.

    You misspelled cues as queues. A queue is a line of people. I’m not sure that’s what you meant. 

    Great and very useful article, though. Many thanks  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for catching that. I have corrected it.

  • Kimberly

    Please write a blog on how to do 1200 interviews in 13 months! :-)

  • http://www.kimberlytmatthews.com Kimberly

    Please write a blog on how to do 1200 interviews in 13 months! :-)

  • turner_bethany

    Wow. 1200 interviews. Definitely baptism by fire. 

    I think your suggestions are great and really can be applied to any interviewing process not just authors. It is always good to be prepared. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/odyssey9794 Peter Hart

    For a television interview, remember that people will see you. Be presentable. Dress well. Comb your hair. Sit up straight. Look as though you are interested in being interviewed and that you are happy to be there. You should be; the producers have many other people who are crying to get on the air. Don’t make them wish that they had chosen someone else.

  • Burke Allen

    Michael, this is one of the best, most concise briefings on doing media interviews I’ve ever read.  As a longtime broadcaster and now head of a P.R. firm that does media training for our clients, your advice is spot on.  

    One piece of additional advice is to duplicate the situation as much as possible “off the air”.  That’s why when authors, politicians and entertainers attend our next Media Mastery Weekend here in DC Oct 21-23rd http://www.mediamasteryweekend, we conduct training interviews in a state of the art radio and TV studio facility, with network level anchors and interviewers asking the questions.  

    If you can’t make it to a formal training, practice with a friend either in person or over the phone; rehearse your timing, inflection, tonality, etc.  Most of all, enjoy the process!

  • http://twitter.com/_ParentingTwins Lois Ridley

    Hi there, I just wanted to let you know when I used your tweet link…it did funky things and did not post until I cut and paste it. Not sure why…

    I also LOVED the article, as a newbie fresh out the gate!

  • Graciela Tiscareno-Sato

    Michael,
    Thanks for this. I launched my first book at Stanford University a month ago. Because I’m a trained product marketer and PR person by trade, I started speaking at universities 8 months ahead of the book’s publication. Therefore, I’m doing LOTS of media interviews now and appreciate these tips very much. I will print out the list and review it ahead of all future interviews!

    Graciela Tiscareño-Sato

    *Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Gracefully Global Group, LLC

    *Speaker
    on innovation and entrepreneurship in green economy
    *Author of Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them

    –the first
    book showcasing Latino-led innovation in the green economy, to inspire students and career changers toward environmental entrepreneurship [note elevator pitch! :-)]
    http://www.latinnovating.com

    Connect
    via Facebook

    Twitter: @Latinnovating

  • http://www.delphiinternational.com Donna Seebo

    As a talk show host that interviews over 200 authors a year one of my biggest frustrations is authors wanting to do the interview by cell phone.  Rarely is the communication clear…there are burps, gurgles with sound and there is a concern about the signal being dropped.  Authors should use a land line whenever possible.  Also, turn off your message service system so your voice won’t cut out while you are being interviewed.
    I am one of those rare hosts who actually reads the materials I am interviewing the author about so I expect them to be prepared to talk enthusiastically and intelligently about their publication.
    Your article is well-done and all authors should read it.
    Thank you, Donna Seebo,
     “The Donna Seebo Show”, BBSRadio.com, Station One, 3-4pm, PST, weekdays. 10 years of empowering others to reach their potential and know their options for a successful life.

  • http://twitter.com/PublicityHound Joan Stewart

    Don’t take your book with you to the TV studio with intentions of holding it up in front of the camera. 

    Yes, take the book. But let the host hold the book. 

  • Janehancock76

    was an on air health reporter for several years in a major market.  Media training is very valuable, but expensive.  The most important thing is to be as “amped up” as your interviewer — you are going to go through several layers of electronics before your image and voice come through.

    In my book, The Accidental Senator, there in an entire chapter devoted to the main character’s media training.  At $14.99, on Amazon, it’s a lot cheaper than media training. 

  • Jane

    I was an on-air television reporter in a major market.  It is important for you, the guest, to be as “amped up” as the host.  Why? Your image and voice will go through several electronic filters before it reaches the viewer/listener.  

    Media training is expensive, but for $14.99 you can buy my book, The Accidental Senator on Amazon.  One entire chapter is devoted to a mewbie getting media training. 

  • Michelle Hollomon

    Thanks for this list of concrete things I need to prepare for. I’ve got a couple radio interviews coming up and really value this information. Thank you! One extra thing: I’ve got to be ready to interview by 5:00 a.m. my time. I think I will wake up an hour before so I don’t have that sleep induced scratchy throat.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Trina-Holden/515132083 Trina Holden

    Thank you for this great article and the meaty comments! I’m preparing for my first radio interview. This post gave me lots of tips as well as making me very grateful that the interview will not be live! LOL

    http://trinaholden.com/realfastfood/

  • Thurman A. Brunson

    Mr. Hyatt

    A few years ago I was privilaged to do a 30 minute interview on a christian radio station.  I was totaly unprepared.  Your ten suggestions has helped me immensly.

  • Brian Cohen

    As the interviewer I am in full agreement with your comments. As much as I would like to read each book, I just find it difficult from a time standpoint.

    What I really look for is the connection with the book/author and the audience. My show is a blogtalkradio program  for 30 minutes. If the intro and first round of our “Ping Pong Match” is not  connecting with the audience then the interview has missed it’s purpose.

    It is everything that the author understands the focus of the show. Perhaps it is focused on motivation, sharing business ideas, enjoying life, what ever it may be the interviewee must fit that. Most can, it just depends on what portion of their story is the main focus.

    If you would like to improve your public speaking skills and gain more confidence I would strongly suggest you find a local Toastmasters club. I have been a member for over 7 yeasrs and all of my media opportunities are through introductions made within the Toastmasters community, and I became a better and more confident speaker.

    Brian Cohen

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  • Therightfitnow

    How did you get that many interviews in the first place?  How did it all start>

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  • David Sanford

    Two more professional power tips:

    11. Break down complicated questions. President Clinton did a terrific job of this with his press briefings. Let the reporter know that he has asked you two or three separate questions, then answer them one by one.

    12. Offer multiple answers to important questions. Internationally renowned author, broadcaster and evangelist Luis Palau does a masterful job of this. If a reporter asks a question he’s just been waiting to answer, Luis will say, “That’s a great question. There are three things I’d like to say about that. First….” It’s not that Luis has memorized his answers. But if the topic is something he’s passionate about, Luis will just say he has three – or four – or even five things to say about that subject. And every time, he instantly comes up with three – or four – or five points on that topic.

    How does he do it? Easy. Remember, the mind is an amazing machine. If you tell a reporter you have four points on a subject, SNAP! Almost instantly your mind will formulate four points for you to talk about. As long as the topic is something you’re passionate about, this works every time. Try it with a family member or friend. Yes, it takes a little practice, but it really works!

    –David Sanford, http://www.linkedin.com/in/drsanford

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Great tips, David. Thanks!

  • http://your-own-free-website.com/ Jason Matthews

    Good stuff. I like the feel-felt-found formula, will have to incorporate that one. Also he’s right about it not being about you–it’s about the audience and what your book can do for them.