The other day, this message came up on my Facebook stream:
Well, I may not have a word for that, but I do understand it. I’ve been interviewed as a writer several times on the radio, and I’m a co-host for a weekly radio program, Word on the Hills, that airs on Northumberland Radio 89.7FM. In the three years we have been running, I’ve learned a thing or two, and here’s the tips I have to offer:
Understand why are you doing the interview.
Why did the radio station ask you? Why did you agree?
Our station promotes all things local. We want to showcase people from our region doing interesting things. Word on the Hills narrows that focus to local people connected with the writing world. We love personal stories, relaxed chatter and slice-of-life humour is always welcome. We don’t just want to hear about the book. We want to hear about you. Your writing journey, your struggles, your triumphs. We want the human face on the book.
You are presumably looking at the interview as a promotional opportunity. But are you clear about what it is you want to promote? Yourself as a writer? An upcoming event? Your new book? All these things?
We are happy to be a promotional outlet for you, but you need to give us entertainment in return.
Before your program can air, we need to settle you in the studio, get you set up with your mic and test your voice quality. I like to go over the format with my guests and make sure all their questions are answered. Even if you are doing the interview by phone, we still need to prepare you and test the voice quality of the connection. At your end you need to minimize background noise and get comfortable.
Understand the format
Our half-hour show is really 22 minutes. Done in two 11-minute segments. Occasionally we can go over that a bit, but we need to leave 5 minutes at the start for news and weather updates and ads, and then a 3 minute ad break in the middle. Now consider that during the show, we need a couple of minutes up front to introduce the show and you our guest. At the end we need wrap-up time, and before and after the break we need to reacquaint listeners with what they are listening to. All that takes time too.
What this means is that you really only have 8 to 10 minutes per segment devoted to you.Use it wisely.
Use your time wisely
The first step in using your time wisely is being prepared. We always offer our guests the opportunity to supply any questions they want to be asked. It’s a win-win that way. We know that you will be enthusiastic about your answer, and you will feel more in control and we will both be serving our goals.
If the radio station you are dealing with doesn’t make this offer to you, then make it to them.Or ask them what they will be asking you so you can come prepared. At the very least, arrive at the interview with some questions prepared in case.
Of course, hand in hand with that, make sure you prepare your answers. Don’t rote learn a script or plan to read. That is deadly! Instead know the points you want to make and practise talking about them out loud to yourself in a mirror, or with a friend or family member. Bring your notes with you. Radio is “blind” so no one will know you are using cues.
Most importantly, link whatever you talk about to what you want to promote. Almost any question can be steered to the topic you want to talk about provided you are clear about what that is.
Especially come with factual information written down. Event dates and times. Contact info. Website URLs. Not only will this help you remember during the interview, but it makes it easier for the radio host to echo the information because it’s handy.
Choose appropriate readings
If your interview will include readings, keep to short complete excerpts. Pick the same kind of things that you would for a live reading: funny bits, action and suspense. Not long descriptions or introspective musings. Make sure your piece is in context. If you have to supply a lead in, fine, but count it in the allotted reading time. If you are promoting your book, choose a bit that represents it so we get a flavour of the rest.
Always practise your readings out loud at a slower pace than the speed you talk. And time them. I’ve had to cut people off in mid-reading because the program was out of time. I’ve also edited recorded pieces so they will fit, and the author didn’t get a say in my edits.
Although people love to hear stories, their listening focus isn’t very long. If you have been allotted more than 5 minutes of reading time, break your reading into two shorter pieces. And make them different. Leave them wanting more.
If you are reading from typed pages, bring them in plastic sleeves so they don’t rustle. If you are reading from a book, mark the pages so there is no dead air or mindless mumbling while you find your spot.
It’s all about you
The most important thing to remember is that this is about you—not the radio station, not the presenters—you! Take control. Know and push your agenda. Just do it in a way that pleases listeners, and you’ll have the radio hosts—and listeners—eating out of your hand. And with any luck, buying your book.
Have you ever been interviewed on radio? Any more advice to offer?