8 Million People are Watching – Make the Most of it
Unit Chief Allison Girvin knows national news. She was a producer at ABC News for 11 years before leaving for The Huffington Post. She is currently Chief of the Business and Tech Unit at NBC News. Ms. Girvin and I grew up on the same street in San Diego, but really got to know each other on the other side of the country, while we both studied at Columbia Journalism School. So I asked her to share her expert advice with you, my clients. Here are Allison Girvin’s most important tips for a successful interview.
“Breaking news happens. It’s not personal… it’s news. We may need to reschedule you. It feels like there are one million pieces that have to have to fit together to make TV magic. We are relying on satellite windows, live trucks, camera crews, reporters and lots of complicated technology working just right. It doesn’t always happen in your ten minute timeframe. So if you can be flexible, the chances of your interview happening dramatically increase.”
Limit Your Conditions
“Please don’t give us a list of 25 things you won’t discuss. We may accept one or two conditions – but sometimes conditions can be a deal breaker. For example, if you have been in the news recently, we have to ask you about it. If we don’t, we’re not doing our job. I once canceled an interview with a Grammy Award winning artist, who said she would not answer any questions about her celebrity marriage. Meanwhile, details of her troubled marriage were all over the news – so we couldn’t have her on and not ask about it.”
Be a Good Talker
“We love dynamic. We love high energy. Show your personality and make it fun for me to talk to you. Excite me… please don’t put me to sleep. Good talkers can make the most mundane topic interesting. And if you can do that, we will ask you back. We keep a list of all the great talkers and they become our “go-to” people. On the other hand… there is a very famous comedian who is such a terrible interview, we stopped booking him for our shows. He is paid to be funny, and is very popular, but he is so terrible in a one-on-one interview, we can’t have him on. You have to be a good talker.”
In a Crisis…Preparation is Critical
In the midst of a company crisis people need to know company leaders are taking responsibility and doing the right thing. It took the CEO of Volkswagen a “do-over” interview to get this right.
In a flubbed interview with NPR in January regarding Volkswagen’s emissions-rigging scandal, Volkswagen CEO, Matthias Müller, tried to deny deceiving regulators, claiming VW “didn’t lie”. He said that the
issue, related to rigging engines to cheat on emissions tests, was instead
caused by “a technical problem” that stemmed from a misinterpretation
of U.S. law.
He then questioned the reporter’s assertion that Americans believe there are ethical problems within the company: “I cannot understand why you say that.” After what I assume was some intense crisis media training, Müller asked for a “do-over”. In the follow-up interview he gets back on track. “We fully accept the violation,” he said. “There is no doubt about it,” and the company is doing its “utmost” to resolve the issue.
It is rare that anyone gets a “do-over” media interview and frankly, once the damage is done – it is done. Click here to read both the initial and follow-up NPR interviews so you can see the importance of proper media training to get it right the first time.
Make Me Want To Interview You Again
As an anchor on MSNBC and Correspondent for NBC News, Contessa Brewer has interviewed some of the world’s highest profile leaders. Ms. Brewer is my former co-worker and I know she will always give me the straight scoop. So I asked her to share her expert advice with you, my clients. What would make Contessa Brewer want to interview you again?
“When you say, ‘Contessa, that’s an excellent question’, you’re doing it to buy yourself time to formulate your answer. But it also tells my viewers that I’m a good interviewer—and when that happens, it makes me like you. Of course, you don’t want to overdo it or say it after every question, but try to work in a couple compliments like, ‘That’s a really good point…’ or ‘Interesting that you bring that up…’ Also, in a contentious interview it might soften my hardball questions.”
“High energy people always come across better. If your energy is low, I would not be inclined to interview you again. Get psyched to go on air and be the most charming version of yourself. I will want to interview you again if you can tell me a compelling story. Your answers need to be animated, colorful and intense. Volume is important too. You don’t want to be soft spoken. Imagine you are at a dinner party with strangers and you want to capture their attention.”
“I want people to be armed with facts when they come to my interview. My viewers are after information that is useful to them. I want specific examples. I want statistics. I want poll results. Vague opinions and general statements don’t add value. The chance that you will be so funny and entertaining that you don’t have to give concrete and useful information is slim. Occasionally it happens, but not often.”