Whether you’ve just launched your book, are announcing a new tour, or celebrating your next opening night, you’ll likely find yourself talking to media at some point or other. I interview people from many industries for the magazine articles I write, and some interview better than others.
Why does this matter? Because it’ll affect what information I can use for the article.
I’ve got a few tips here for you so you, too, can become a better interviewee.
Watch Your Pronouns
If you’re talking about two guys and a gal and you keep saying “he,” the writer may go back to her notes and suddenly realize she’s not entirely sure which “he” you’re referring to. Although the writer may try to reach you for clarification, if she can’t, then she’ll likely go for one of the following solutions:
- Strike the quote, no matter how good it is.
- Assume which person it refers to and change the quote.
In my opinion, the first one is the only option unless context is very clear. If I’m not 100% certain whom the pronoun is referring to, I will definitely cut the quote. Because I do much of my writing evenings and weekends when those I interview aren’t always reachable, this means the information doesn’t make it in to the article.
Don’t Use the Writer as a Subject
It’s annoying when I get used as an example. Not because I’m insulted at all, but because I can’t use the quote. Using the writer as a subject looks like this: “Let’s say Lori is trying to improve her pirouette, so she focuses on her teacher’s old advice of pulling up straight. But this causes Lori to pull up her shoulders…”
I’ve had phenomenal illustrations given to me this way, quotable material. But I can’t quote it because my name’s in it. (And no, I won’t change the name. I have no issues changing a pronoun if I’m 100% certain of the antecedent, but I won’t change the name.)
Yes, the writer can call you up to clarify or ask your permission to change the name, but again, this is an extra step that may not happen.
Let the Writer Jump in Once in a While
Although limiting your answers to two sentences can make it difficult for the writer to get any quotable material, if the writer hasn’t asked you anything in five minutes, wrap up your thought and then pause. Some writers are too polite to interrupt, some need a moment for formulate the next question (and that’s hard to do when someone’s talking), and to be honest, it can get really boring listening to someone talk for 45 minutes straight.
Treat the interview like a conversation, and just ease into it. Yes, you should be talking the most, but let the writer participate.
Understand Time and Space Allotment
Unless you’re told otherwise, assume that others will also be interviewed for the article. I consider it impolite to ask who, but I think there’s nothing wrong with asking how long the article is.
Knowing the assigned length of the article will give you an idea of how much information the writer is looking for. For example, if the article is 1200 words, even if you’re the focus, the interview will likely last only 30 minutes or so. You’ll have certain information you want to share, so prepare with that time limit in mind.
And if the writers says they’ll only need five minutes of your time, plan accordingly.
Have Respect for the Writer’s Time
I generally like interviewing, because I get to meet some really interesting people. I expect the person I’m talking to to share information, anecdotes, personal reflections, and the like. However, even for a 1,200-word article, I don’t want someone’s list of their personal 10 Commandments.
(I once interviewed someone who kept me on the phone for two hours, even though they were one of three people I was interviewing for a 1,200-word article and knew that. Needless to say, I was livid, and I certainly wasn’t going to transcribe the entire two hours. If that subject had wanted something important in the article, there was a good chance I missed it.)
Although erring on the side of more information is generally a good idea, you can go too far.
Just Think of Your Own Projects
In the end, it comes down to the same guidelines that likely apply your own art: stay on topic, keep the overall framework in mind, and respect everyone’s time. It’ll help you get the information you need into the media and hopefully bring you more leads down the road.