Interview tips, from media consultants. And results, from me.

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As part of my book promotion tour, my publisher sent me to media training with Clarity Media Group. I thought the media trainer would talk with me about being on television — how to sit, where to put my hands, what to wear. Instead, he focused on how to not be a loose cannon.

I know this about myself — that I have a sub-standard edit button. It is not uncommon that our biggest strength is also our biggest weakness. In my case, I’m good at saying what I really think, but in some situations I need to be better at saying the second thing that comes to mind instead of the first.

A good example of this problem is my sex analogies. I don’t know why, but sex seems like an appropriate analogy for almost every point I’ve wanted to make, ever. My editor at Business 2.0 told me early on that I need to stop writing references to sex in my column, and when I didn’t, he just deleted them without asking me.

Five years later, when I had not gotten much better about it, Marci Alboher, a woman I trust, told me I should stop talking about sex because I risk offending people. Actually, she specified a sex act. Which I reference a lot, but need to stop referencing, and will not say here to prove that I am not too old a dog to learn new tricks.

So, anyway, the media trainer spent a lot of time teaching me how to edit myself better as I’m talking out loud.

Luckily, most of his advice was about preparing beforehand. Knowing what answer you’re going to give way before you have to field a question. This is very similar to advice I have given about getting a job, so you should pay attention whether you are being interviewed by the press or by a potential employer. Here’s a quote from the material my media trainer gave me.

“Don’t try to prepare for every possible question that could arise. Determine the 6-8 topics that are likely to come up during your interview and then:

a. Hone a key message for each topic.

b. Identify anecdotes you can tell that illustrate each message.

c. Prepare specific examples or compelling data to prove your point.

d. Think of clever analogies if appropriate.

Think of these interviews as the equivalent of a good movie trailer, in which your quest is to independently drive to the very best scenes, anecdotes and newsworthy revelations in the book.”

Here’s an example of me putting all that training into action: Peter Clayton interviewed me for Total Picture Radio. He is a total pro. I am not quite there. You will notice that after all that training, I still made a reference to sex.

18 replies
  1. Almost Got It
    Almost Got It says:

    Great post! Unfortunately, self-editing is one of the things that goes with adult life. Fortunately, so is *sex*, so it mostly balances out in the end…

  2. MyNameIsMatt
    MyNameIsMatt says:

    BORING! Oh, I’m sorry did that slip out? Now that I know you have a first instinct to make connections with sex, I feel like I’m missing out knowing that you’re censoring yourself. Do you do that on this site?

    I’m a little nervous about what you’re saying here because I think the key point is to be aware and sensitive of the audience you’re communicating with – and that’s all very good (there’s a difference between giving a speech at a local church and yapping to friends at home). Sure, if you’re employer doesn’t want you using sexual references, then maybe it ain’t worth a fight standing up for your own natural character and personality – let those qualities filter through in other ways.

    Still, politicians are boring for a reason. They’re on point and good at it. They’re overly aware of who might be in the audience. How many blogs by politicians do you think I read? None. I’m not advocating shock jock actions, but you should write as yourself, and additionally interview as yourself, or risk getting into a situation that doesn’t work for you or others.

    I like living like along the ‘gapingvoid’ line/motto ( Print the F-work on your business card, and scare away the clientèle you’d have a hard time working with. Same thing for jobs. If I have to hold back at work because I’m afraid, then I can’t be a good employee, and shouldn’t work there. That’s a hard line to take, and probably will bring some controversy and dislike, but few people do that, and those of us who do stand out as mavericks who stick to the things they like doing. Of course, one can go overboard with that too.

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    Matt, I think you’ve hit on the head why it’s so nice to be a straight white male in the United States. You can get away with so much…and, f-them if they can’t take a joke. You’re still part of the status quo and the darling of advertisers.

  4. Mr. E
    Mr. E says:

    What exactly is wrong with offending a few people?? Shouldn’t it be their problem that they let themselves be offended, at least if sex references is the culprit?

    I think you run a risk of loosing appeal to your main audience by trying to make everybody happy.

    Read “If some people don’t HATE your product, it’s mediocre.” by Kathy Sierra / Creating Passionate Users:

    That being said, I can to some degree understand moderating yourself in a tv-interview for promoting your book, but even then, you’ll might make more people interested enough to check out your book by worrying less about offending people.

  5. MyNameIsMatt
    MyNameIsMatt says:

    Point taken Mary. I’m not trying to advocate being obnoxious or uncaring, and I can definitely get away with a lot because of my good choice in genes, but I don’t use colorful language in business exchanges to be funny. It’s not a joke if you read the F-word on my business card. It’s a warning that I have a specific type of personality, and there are plenty of people who wouldn’t like that (and other that prefer it). So, instead of wasting time with niceties only to find out months down the road that the relationship didn’t work, it’s a way of clearing the air up front.

    Just to note, I don’t actually use the F-word on my business card, but I wouldn’t have a problem putting it on there either. Mary, I think you comment about status quo is exactly what I’m pushing back against. The status quo is as mass audience advertisers prefer is bland and washed of character more of than not. Corporations have a habit of being drains on creative thinking because they think it’s better pulling back, then pushing boundaries. This is how corporations get stuck in the loop of mediocracy. Again, I’m not advocating that people go out the offend other willy-nilly, but this country has seen the bad side effects of censorship all too often.

  6. Adrian Savage
    Adrian Savage says:

    Why do so many Americans have such a hang-up about openly recognizing the part sex plays in life? Europeans don’t, by and large. Images of nudity and casual references to sexual acts barely raise an eyebrow in Europe. Yet Americans swallow (and seemingly enjoy) horrific images of violence without so much as a quiver. It’s tough to understand.

    Perhaps it’s that Puritan background again. Just as an excess of Puritan Work Ethic keeps people here thinking that hard work is a virtue in itself, when it’s often a give-away that you aren’t too good at what you are doing.

    Good points about allowing second thoughts to come through; another reason why slowing down is a really useful idea.

  7. Mary
    Mary says:

    Matt–I realized that using f@%k on a biz card would be totally appropriate and succcinct if a person is an escort–kind of like a biz card resume–but I guess only if you add an -ing.

    Otherwise, I guess its stylistic. I’m kind of disappointed to hear you don’t use it, as it would be interesting to hear if it was successful or not.


  8. MyNameIsMatt
    MyNameIsMatt says:

    I can’t say I came up with the idea, but you should take a look at the site by Hugh MacLeod, and see some of his business card cartoons at

    My favorite is on that page, “It’s all about thriving in markets that smarter and faster than you are. It’s all about being utterly fucked if you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

    I couldn’t find the post from his blog, but there are people who’ve post comments saying they’ve use that one or others of those card designs and it’s helped them tailor their clientèle to people that they’re better suited to work with. If you don’t like them or find them appropriate for what you do, then that’s fine. It should be obvious that it’s not for everyone and for a good reason, but not some highschool joke about escort services or drug dealers.

  9. Tor dot Bjorn
    Tor dot Bjorn says:

    I think you are more real than people give you credit for. I toast your being of yourself in the interview. And funny too!

  10. john cole
    john cole says:

    when you agree to let somebody edit you, whether it’s what you say about sex or about anything else, you’re agreeing to let the editor decide who your audience will be, & you end up talking to an audience whose members don’t respond to who you are but to who the editor says you ought to be — maybe that’s what you want — did you ever want to study acting?

  11. Anonnymouse!
    Anonnymouse! says:

    Damn, and here I was thinking that the random references to oral sex would continue. Lots of good laughs from those ;) I also seem to be able to link pretty much anything to sex so I guess I should learn something from this article :)

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