How to Prepare for the Big Interview

How to Prepare for the Big Interview

The Questions You Ask Yourself are as Important as the Answers

After more than 20 years in the public relations business, I’ve discovered one universal truth: There’s really nothing quite as important as preparing for an interview.

After all, if you’ve gone through all the trouble of studying the news, reading about the issues and creating a set of resonant messages and have used them to score an interview with a journalist, why would you want to wing it? The problem is most people prepare for an interview by asking themselves the questions THEY would ask THEMSELVES, instead of asking the questions a professional journalist would likely ask them. That’s where I have seen many campaigns run off the rails before they begin.

Journalists care about how your interview could help their audience. So the trick is being able to prepare for their questions, and still work your messages into those answers. That’s why I wanted to take the time today to offer up some dos and don’ts.

  • Don’t Focus on You – Don’t write questions about yourself, unless it pertains to your expertise or the story being covered by the interviewer. Often when we watch authors or corporate figures being interviewed on TV, they get the questions “So, why did you write your book?” or “How did you come up with your new product?” However, those questions are typically asked only of well-known experts or celebrities like Oprah or Steve Jobs, because the audience knows them and are interested in their personal journey. People who lack name recognition don’t usually get asked this type of question by the major media. So, prepping with questions like “What was your goal in writing your book?” or “What makes your new product better than the competition?” won’t be helpful.
  • Focus on the Issues – Unless you are a name recognized celebrity, more often than not, the reason you are appearing as a guest on TV or radio or being interviewed for a print piece is because of your ability to provide expert commentary on something in the news. That’s the model we use in pitching our clients to the media and we find it to be very successful. In this sense, the questions you prepare for your mock Q & A should be centered on the news at hand. “What do you think will be the effect of [whatever news item you’re commenting on]?” or “What trends in the industry do you see as shaping the next few months?” Look at the headlines relevant to your expertise, and think about how you’d comment on them, almost as if you were having coffee with a friend, talking about trends, opinions and potential outcomes stemming from the news of the day.
  • Think Like a Journalist – When prepping for an interview, don’t think about it from the perspective of the questions that will help you get out your message. Believe me, the interviewer really isn’t invested in your messages. He or she wants to deliver the best segment they can in terms of information and entertainment for their audience. That’s why people watch or listen to that show, or read that writer’s columns. Think of questions that the host might ask to make it an entertaining and informative interview. What do you think his audience wants or needs to know about your topic? What information can you provide that is unique to your expertise, perhaps something no one else in the media would know to say? What is going to be the most useful and helpful thing you could tell that interviewer’s audience?

If you can focus on questions that relate to the news, the audience and your expertise, then you’ll find your preparation will bear the appropriate fruit when the spotlight is on you.


  1. The title of your post really grabbed me, because I was just on the radio a few days ago and I forgot to promote my book. I was being interviewed on Veterans in Politics about my campaign for the State Assembly. Near the end of the interview, after I had had been explaining arcane points about tax structures, he started asking me about my university degrees, one of which was from the Universtiy of Kalinin in the Soviet Union, and then out of the blue he compared me to Lee Harvey Oswald! I was so thrown that I totally flubbed his next question, which was about Asatru, a subject I just published a book about and went on a book tour giving 45 minute lectures on the topic, and I was reduced to a monosyllabic mumble and I didn’t even mention my book. I’ve been kicking myself ever since. I knew I was being interviewed by someone who had endorsed my opponent, and I thought I was on my guard, but I was not prepared for that left hook!

    • Hi Erin,

      I completely sympathize with your experience. A very similar thing happened to me on a national show. But fortunately, I have been in this business of publicity long enough to know that it happens to the best of us, and probably to everyone at some point in their career. The take away for you is that you now know what to expect and how you would handle it if it ever happened again. The one thing about putting yourself out there in the media is that you never know what questions or comments will come at you, so it’s a matter of doing enough to be prepared for anything. And, stop kicking yourself, you probably did much better than you think! 🙂


  2. Marsha,
    Thanks for the timely article… I was so busy trying to push my book, I forgot my message when one radio station asked me about its title and my audience. I did get into why I wrote the book but neglected to address how it can help the station’s audience. I kept kicking myself because this was a great opportunity to reach potential customers by getting my message out–after all, this was the reason I wrote the book in the first place. Preparing for interviews is not just important to your brand but it’s critical. Sometimes up and coming authors like myself are not always thinking strategically when it comes to our books. We are more concerned with selling and neglect critical parts of our message–marketing, branding, message, etc.
    Dawn Nicole

    • Hi Dawn,

      I completely understand what happened to you, because I had a similar experience when I started doing media interviews. But, rather than look at it as any kind of a failure on your part, look at it as a learning experience. The fact is, none of us were born with some inherent skill to be great guests! It’s a skill that is developed from doing enough interviews, learning what you do wrong so that you can correct them, and that is how you get really good at it. I have no doubt your next interviews will be great! 🙂


  3. Great article. Thanks a bunch. This information is so valuable for those in the small business ranks. It would be a shame to be granted an interview only to tank during the actual session.

    • Hi Dale,

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

      Marsha 🙂

  4. Marsha,
    I will give only two tips that I followed, nothing big:-

    ONE- be thorough in what you did and what you do.
    TWO- across the table always think that the person sitting across you is a human who is intelligent BUT have limitations too. I have always succeeded.




    • Hi Viv,

      I particularly love your last tip, thanks for chiming in! 🙂


  5. Great article, Marsha – thank you! I usually try to remember what I tell my clients – that it’s not an interview, but an innerview. Be authentic and give them the real juice, especially in a job interview. Live the saying “give them what they want to get what you want.”

  6. Great article, Marsha – thank you! I usually try to remember what I tell my clients – that it’s not an interview, but an innerview. Be authentic and give them the real juice, especially in a job interview. Live the saying “give them what they want to get what you want.”



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