I do a lot of interviews. At least two or three a week — ranging from CNN to local newspapers. And no matter where the interview is running, there are some things you need to know about doing a good one:
1. Be interesting. The questions people ask you are not really what they want to know. It's what they think will be interesting. They would ask you about the price of tea in China if they thought the answer would be interesting.
So your job in an interview is to give an answer that is entertaining and thought-provoking and all the other things that people like. You don't need to answer the question as much as you need to answer the need for interestingness.
2. Be short. The world does not have an unlimited attention span to hear how your mind works. So you can't think out loud in an interview and have everyone wait til you get to your point. Your point has to start right away.
Also, if you are short then you are more likely to be interesting the whole time. The longer you talk about a given topic the harder it is to keep someone's interest. In the PR world this is called “soundbite”. But really, you can use the sound bite technique everywhere — on radio, in a blog post, on a date.
3. Be conversational. You can't be chatty in a written interview because there's no one there. But on the phone, or on TV you can actually make the interview into more of a conversation. In a many cases, the interview becomes more interesting this way.
First of all, it tells the audience that the person interviewing is interesting in their own right, because you are asking questions back to him or her. And a room with two interesting people is better than a room with only one interesting person. The second thing is that the conversation becomes a little less scripted and there is more risk and more space for unbridled passion, on either side of the conversation. And spontaneity makes conversation more engaging.
Be upbeat is also a rule. I think. But why is this a rule? I'm not sure. I think it is like the rule about the first two minutes — or whatever the time frame is that someone forms their judgment of you. You want them to meet someone who is fresh-faced, chirpy and upbeat. But what if you're feeling grouchy? What if you are not really a chirpy type of person?
Recently I've been experimenting with breaking the rule about being upbeat. I did an audio interview with self-confidence coach Steve Errey, on a morning when I was having a confidence crisis. And I decided I was not going to fake it on the phone.
Then a week later, I did a written interview with Gretchen Rubin, who is writing a book about happiness research, and I decided to allow myself to reveal that I feel pissy about the happiness research.
And you know what? I really like both interviews. Maybe you will too. And if you like those, then maybe you will also like the photo that everyone told me I could not put on my blog masthead because the world does not like sulking. But I love a good sulk: