If you Fail to Plan, you Plan to Fail
Find out as much as you can about the intended interview. Ask the researcher who calls you to give you as much information as possible:
- What will be the main areas for discussion?
- Will the piece be live or recorded?
- How long will it take to shoot?
- How long will it last on air?
- Where will the interview take place? Studio or location?
- Is it a simple one interviewer, one interviewee affair or more complicated?
- If it’s a discussion who else will be taking part.
- Who will be doing the interviewing?
Don’t ask for a list of questions
Actually, no researcher or reporter in his or her right mind would dream of giving you such a list. Apart from anything else it would make you look silly. You must agree on areas for discussion. But not the questions themselves.
There is a famous story about a programme researcher who was told to recruit an architect for an interview. The chap was very nervous and only agreed to attend if he was given a list of questions in advance. The researcher agreed (without asking her editor) and handed over a list.
The architect carefully wrote out his answers and spent days getting them word-perfect. He practiced in front of the bathroom mirror, his wife, his dog, etc. Then came the great day.
The programme was live, and the interview with the man of bricks came near the end, following a filmed report on a controversial building he’d just finished. But an earlier item ran over its time and the interviewer was told to cut down the piece from five minutes to three.
He sensibly went straight for question number two. And received answer number one – the interviewee was so well prepared he wasn’t even listening too the questions. Actually, it didn’t fit too badly. Apart from being recited in a sing-song manner that revealed only too obviously that the chap was remembering the words not the sense of what he was saying. Think of the worst school play you’ve ever seen and you’ll get the idea.
The answer to the next question; “Your next project is the most ambitious yet”, didn’t flow at all well. It was all about choice of material for the job just finished.
But the crowning glory came when the interviewer wished him luck with the project he’d just failed to talk about, then started to link to the next item in the programme. He was interrupted by the distraught interviewee; “But I haven’t finished yet. I’ve got another answer!”
So what do I say?
The short answer to that question is SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY.
Have three points prepared and trot them out almost regardless of what you’re asked. It’s not entirely that simple, of course. You can’t answer a question like, “Why did you decide to sack half your staff?” with, “Blogg’s meat pies are the best in the whole world.”
But you’d be amazed how easy it is to get away with something like, “My staff are like family to me. Blogg’s meat pies are the best in the world. And it’s the export business that’s made us so great. . .”
There’s more in the section on content about how to build a bridge from where the question ends to what you want to say.
First – some more preparation
If you’re going to be interviewed at home or in your office, consider what location you might offer to the crew. It’s the director’s prerogative to select the place, but if you’ve got a nice garden (and it’s quiet) you might want to suggest it. It depends on the context, of course; an interview about the finer points of forensic psychology might seem out of place amongst the azaleas!
If the interview is in a studio or another place with which you’re not too familiar, ask for a car to be sent. Most large organisations do this as a matter of course. You’ll arrive less flustered than if you’ve had to find a taxi in the rain, or catch a bus or struggled to find a parking place in a city centre.<
It’s a good idea to have a fact sheet ready – contents depend on the circumstances, but it should at least have your name (for correct spelling of superimpositions, (plus, if you’re in a foreign country, phonetics to indicate pronunciation), organisation, title, and a contact number.
Depending on the context, make sure you’re up to date with events. If you are in a foreign city, be sure to read the local press (if in a language you can understand) in case it contains anything relevant to the interview.
That’s enough mental preparation for now. But more dos and don’ts in the next section.