How Not to Do a TV Interview

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4 “Don’ts” to Keep In Mind to Ensure You Don’t Blow It

Sometimes I feel bad for on-air TV personalities, because if you’re on television regularly for any length of time, you’re going to screw up. It’s inevitable. It’s the law of averages, and when you do, YouTube will be sure to archive it for future generations.

The Internet is stockpiled with videos of show hosts forgetting the camera was on, dropping four-letter words and losing it when heckled by onlookers off camera. The same is true with public relations, because we’re not immune to gaffs, and neither are our clients. One of my staff likes to tell the story of a New York politician who was caught not paying taxes in the middle of a re-election campaign, and so his PR rep wanted to shield him from too many questions. To combat that, he scheduled an outdoor press conference in the dead of the afternoon on the hottest day of the year, hoping the heat would shorten the length of the press conference and thin the crowd of reporters because they didn’t want to be outside. The press conference went off as planned in the sweltering afternoon sun, and 10 minutes into it, his candidate passed out from heat stroke.

So, when you’re thinking of doing TV interviews, here are some basic, and not so basic dos and don’ts to help you through the rough patches:

  1. Don’t look at the monitor – If you’ve never done TV before, the first thing you’ll notice in a guest segment is that when you sit down at the set, there are tons of distractions – monitors showing all the camera angles, cameramen rolling the cameras to different positions, and producers who like to move around the set. Forget them. Look at the person interviewing you, as if you were just having a cup of coffee with them at the local Starbucks.
  2. Don’t Let a Stumble Stop the Interview – Most interviews are either live, or what they call “live to tape,” meaning they are taped segments, but they are not edited. That means whatever happens during the segment, mistakes and all, is what they run. So, if you stumble over your words or cough or accidentally spit out the gum in your mouth (that you should have spit out before the interview), you just have to keep going. No matter what, in most cases you’ll have one take, and whatever happens, well, happens. Don’t stop and say “Cut, can we do this again please?” because that is what will air.
  3. Don’t Do Your “Elevator Pitch” – When being interviewed, you should answer the host’s questions directly, and not go into your stock company pitch right off the bat. That will only annoy the host, and make them ask the question again (which will make you look foolish). If you are concerned, try to talk to the producer in advance about what questions you’ll be asked. If the producer is vague, or doesn’t give you the exact questions, then simply be ready for whatever they throw at you.
  4. Don’t Move in a Distracting Way – A news segment is not “Dancing with the Stars,” so don’t move too much when you’re being interviewed. If you naturally gesture when you talk, then gesture, but don’t go overboard. Sweeping hand gestures are distracting. If you’re standing during the interview, try to stand still. Place your feet at shoulder width to maintain balance, and don’t bounce around. Bobbing, weaving, pacing or any other kind of nervous movement will be distracting. Moreover, if you are sitting, don’t do the nervous knee bounce that many people are used to doing under the table in the board room. There is no table, and the camera will pick it up. Remember, being stationary and relaxed will help you exude confidence on camera.

The main “don’t,” however, is don’t try to perform. Just be yourself, represent your company professionally and allow the expert in you to rise to the surface. That’s the reason they booked you, and that’s who they want to put on TV.

If you’ve landed a TV interview, congratulations, you’ve secured a few precious minutes on a platform which can be tremendously valuable to the promotion of your company and products. How else can you reach your target market as a captive audience who will see your product, hear you tell them about its benefits, and listen to their favorite TV personality apparently endorse it?

Take it from me – you will receive few opportunities as valuable to your marketing as a TV appearance, so it’s so important to be a success. If you ace your TV interview, not only are you more likely to be invited back, but when other TV producers Google you, finding that clip of your informative and entertaining guest spot will leave them chomping at the bit to book you on their shows!

Here is a delightful sketch by the wonderful Martin Short, where he very humorously demonstrates how to be a really terrible guest on a TV interview – enjoy!

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