Preparing for an Interview

Writers pursuing publication should learn how to speak well.

I know what some of you are thinking.

Hey lady, I’m a writer. Not a speaker. 

Here’s the thing. If you are pursuing publication and your goal is to be a successful author, chances are, at some point, you’ll need to use your voice. And I mean your actual voice, not your writing one.

Radio interviews. Workshop presentations. Speaking to your platform. Pitching to editors and agents. I’m sure the list doesn’t end there.

My debut novel will release in May, 2012 with Waterbrook Multnomah (a division of Random House) and although it’s still ten months away, the marketing department is already discussing ways to promote my book.

Recently, I did an audio recording, or an interview conducted over the phone which will be shared with sales reps and retailers. It also might be used for promotional purposes later down the road.

The questions were deep. And I was nervous. I’d never done anything like this before and usually, when I get nervous, my voice gets shaky. And the shakier my voice gets, the more nervous I get. It turns into this whole vicious cycle.

But you know what?

It ended up being a really cool experience.

Here are some tips that helped me prepare, relax, and have fun:

  • Find out what you have to talk about and let the topic soak. I had to answer some pretty deep questions. Questions I didn’t know how to answer at first. Letting them percolate for a while helped when it came time to brainstorm.
  • Type your answers in a bullet point format instead of paragraph format. I wanted to sound conversational, not like I was reading. But the idea of answering from memory terrified me. I needed something to help me stay focused and avoid rabbit trails. So for each answer, I had a short list of bullets to reference.
  • Practice. This is key. Practice alone. But even more important, practice with an actual person. My husband was kind enough to ask me the questions, listen and offer feedback.
  • Time yourself. Attention spans only last for so long. The more concise we can be, the better.
  • The day of the interview, don’t obsess about it. Practice one more time. Then do something to distract yourself. For me, playing some good old-fashioned spider solitaire helped keep the nerves at bay.
  • When the time comes, take a deep breath, smile, and do your best! 
You can use these same tips for almost any speaking engagement. I know I went through a similar process when I prepared to pitch to Rachelle, my agent, and Shannon, my editor, at the 2009 ACFW conference.
• • •

How do you feel about this kind of stuff? Do you enjoy speaking, doing interviews, pitching to agents and editors? Have you ever had to do it? If so, how did you prepare? 

26 Replies to “Preparing for an Interview”

  1. Awesome advice, Katie. Thank you. I am preparing to meet with editors at the ACFW writers’ conference next month and know I could use some “soaking” time to be better prepared to talk about my work and moi. Rachelle posted about preparing your long pitch and had a lot of the same kinds of advice. You want to be natural. Something that doesn’t come naturally for some of us, unfortunately. 🙂

  2. I love honest advice and I love practical advice–and you provided both. Thanks, Katie!
    I worked with Rob Eagar, of Wildfire Marketing, when I wanted to improve my platform for my nonfiction book. He had us do a practice radio interview–him doing the interviewing, of course. I’d crafted questions and answers–and practiced some. But the first go-round bombed. I was stiff. Nerves ruled the day.
    So we called a halt. I suggested having a go at it the next week.
    I practiced in my car driving around town, hoping people thought I was talking on my cell. I practiced while I made dinner. (No, honey, I wasn’t talking to you.) I practiced while I walked the dogs. You name an available time, I practiced.
    The next week was fun! I was more than ready–I was raring to go.
    So I agree–practice is the key.
    Then go have fun!

  3. Great tips, Katie! I just did a radio interview today in my hometown and the first thing the host wanted me to do was give my 5-minute testimony. Yikes! You can bet I had a road map of talking points in front of me. I’m usually off-the-cuff, but that one is a tall order.

  4. Great advice, Katie! When I’m nervous, I talk super fast or end up babbling. Now that I know this, I make a conscious effort to speak normally, clearly and stop talking. 🙂 I’ve spoken to a few ladies groups already so I’ve had a little bit of practice, but I haven’t prepared for anything big. I have to do a video interview soon for a friend, so that will be great practice too. Thanks for the tips. Love the bullet points idea.

  5. Back in the 90’s when I was writing non fiction, I did hundreds of radio interviews. Typically, I had the list of questions my publisher had sent the station to ask me, so I was prepared. And for nearly every question I first thought of a story. If I could tell a story in 45 seconds or less, interviewers were always happy. (If you don’t have that list of potential questions, create one and make sure the publisher sends it to interviewers.)

    Most interviewers love to hear themselves talk, so if you get stuck, turn the tables, “That’s a great question, Dr. Dobson (I was never on Focus), what do you think?” You can’t pull that card more than once in an interview, but it buys you some time until you can collect your thoughts.

    Try to find out the demographic of their listeners before the interview. That way you know how to scratch their itch.

    Don’t be afraid to not have the answer. “Good question, Bob. But that one is a bit above my pay grade and expertise. Perhaps a listener knows the answer (if it’s a call in).” Better to admit it if you don’t know than bluff your way through the question.

  6. Katie,
    Way to get us going on Day Two! I love these tips. Here are a few of my own:

    1. Instead of saying, “I’m nervous” say, “I’m excited” or “I do well at speaking.” Your brain releases different stress chemicals. Also, your brain believes what you tell it.

    2. If you don’t know the answer to a question, ask for an explanation or simply say, “You know that’s a good question and I don’t have the answer for that.” I think it’s much better to admit it than trying to fake it.

    3. If I’m speaking to a group, I typically speak to a few people beforehand. That way when I begin my speech, I have friendly faces in the audience to look at. If I need to gather my thoughts, I will ask the audience a question. In fact, I might even do this at the very beginning because people tend to stay nervous until they hear themselves speak out loud. Also, people like to be able to contribute, and not always be talked at.

    Lastly — and these you can only do if you are at home where no one can see you — aerobic exercises and hanging upside down on one of those exercise balls, releases nervousness. I once had an interview with the largest conservative radio station in San Francisco. From my office phone here in Denver, no one had a clue that I was doing push ups, jumping jacks, and hanging upside down on my ball during commercial breaks.

      1. I just realized there is no way to tactfully answer that question except, “yes.” Self-depreciation or sarcasm doesn’t work. But I’m certain at least YOU have a great mind.

  7. Good Morning Everyone,
    I joined Toastmasters and stayed in the group for five years. Toastmasters International helps to develop public speaking skills. I did it because I knew it wasn’t my area of strength and I had to speak in front of large groups of students for my day job. It was hard for me but I did it and I’m better for it now. I like what you said Katie about practicing, that’s huge. And Greg’s idea about knowing what is going to be asked is awesome. I recently did a radio interview and didn’t know what the questions were going to be but it all went well outside of some nervous laughter, which I hate, but I don’t think it came off too badly. Lucky for me I had an interviewer who liked to talk. 🙂 And Lucille, you are so right about not saying you are nervous when you speak. Everytime I hear someone say that, they typically do a great job and no one would have ever guessed they were nervous to beging with. This is a helpful reminder today as I have to speak at the college where I work. Not a big deal but it will help get me on track for the school year. Thanks Katie!

    1. Jillian, I was a member of Toastmasters for three years and gained a great deal from the program. Not only did I gain confidence as a prepared speaker, but I learned to deliver extemporaneous speeches, lead a meeting, and more. Those skills have helped me in many ways. I put them to good use when I presented my first writing workshop last month.

  8. Katie, I love number 1 and it only gets better! When we let the topic soak into our hearts/minds, responses are heart-felt, natural and passionate. GREAT post!! Thanks so much.

  9. This advice is very timely. In fact, I’m presenting a workshop at a writer’s conference tomorrow. My notes are in bullets and I’m raring to go. Thanks for the pep talk.

  10. Lucielle, I’m going to have to try that reverse psychology!! Love it. I’ve done a couple of radio interviews and they actually turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought! I admit to being terribly nervous before we went on the air though. Once I got talking, I was fine. The key is also having a great interviewer – so I’m not sure how I’ll do if I have to do a video just with me babbling about my book. 🙂 However, I do love talking about it, so who knows… Katie, I’m sure you did just fine. You’re fortunate to have a marketing department behind you, consider it a blessing even when you’re nervous.

  11. The tip about the bullet points is so good. You remember what you want to talk about, but you can do it in a natural, conversational tone.

    The one I struggle with is the practicing out loud with someone else.

  12. GREAT advice! I prepare by using a nice brown paper bag and a lot of chocolate. My skills as a speaker are nill, although I’m better than I used to be. I had an executive coach at work once (long story) and she really helped me. Biggest thing she said for me, is to be prepared. If I know my topic, know what types of things are going to be asked, and feel confident, I’m going to do MUCH better. I tend to talk REALLY fast when I’m nervous (or when I get on a roll…) so I also have to be conscience about my speed too.

    Needless to say, speaking engagements aren’t on the top of my list of “things I want to do in my life.”

  13. Great topic, Katie, and one we don’t see addressed that often–maybe because everyone is so skeered! 😉

    For those who don’t yet have a book contract, it’s not too early to take steps toward becoming more comfortable speaking. As Jill said, Toastmasters is terrific with a long, successful history of making people better public speakers. Here are a few more ideas:

    1. Sign up for a good old-fashioned Speech class at your community college. I did it while in my 30s, and found it challenging to speak in front of all 18-year-olds. Challenging and productive. Even though speech and debate tournaments were my life in high school, switching up the audience was helpful.

    2. Add a video component to your blog, as Rachelle Gardner has recently done. I’m planning to do this one soon, as I’m not at all used to speaking on camera and who knows when that skill might come in handy? Choose a topic, prepare with bullet points as you would if you were being asked interview questions, and then create and post your vlog. Analyze it afterwards (be kind to yourself!), noting areas that need improvement, including not just audio issues but also facial expressions, etc.

    3. Skype with your writer friends or others, for practice speaking on screen, as your future interviews (once you do get that illustrious contract) will likely sometimes be conducted on Skype, and possibly even on television. Don’t think you’ll forever be able to use your standard excuse: “I have a face made for radio.” I personally am A Girl With A Thousand Faces, as far as expressiveness goes. I need practice managing my face. 🙂

    4. Put yourself in situations where you’ll be expected to contribute to discussions. Support groups, counseling sessions (hmmm….anyone detecting a theme, ha!), Sunday school class, PTA meetings, homeowners association meetings—any gathering where audience participation is needed. And then—this is key!—actually speak up.

    I’d rather work on these skills now, and continually throughout my life, than wait until I’ve got a book about to hit the market and then feel pressured to master everything in short order. The skills, even once acquired, can certainly get rusty. Thank you for motivating me to dust them off and polish them up, Katie!

    1. Katy, like yours, my face is very expressive. Since body language is an important element of public speaking, having an expressive face can be an asset. When I presented my first writing workshop last month, I found that trait to be quite helpful. I was excited and enthusiastic, and those listening picked up on my energy and were engaged from start to finish.

  14. Great tips, Katie! I love your solid suggestions on preparing for a speech. As a former radio and TV reporter, I don’t typically get the jitters during interviews, BUT I didn’t have as much confidence when giving a speech in public. Although I wasn’t afraid to be front and center, I was unsure about how to structure a speech for the best delivery. Since I had attended writers’ conferences to learn the craft of writing, I decided to attend a speakers’ conference to learn about being a more effective speaker. It helped me tremendously. I’ve learned how to formulate a speech and present it with ease. Written communication and spoken communication are two entirely different formats. As writers we need to master two crafts, both writing AND speaking. We owe it to our audience.

  15. As someone who is, shall we say ‘inexperienced’ in public speaking and interview technique, the thought of eventually having to engage in something like that to promote my work is nothing short of daunting. Reading your advice, put across in such a friendly yet professional manner, has answered a great deal of the questions I had on the matter and boosted the old confidence levels a bit.

    For that, I thank you! Keep up the brilliant and helpful work!

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