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9 things you wish you knew before your first TV interview

You’ve just landed your first TV interview on a local talk show!

What do you do first?

A. Dance joyfully around the room.

B. Share the exciting news on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

C. Panic because you’ve never been interviewed on camera before.

D. All of the above.

The correct answer is D. All of the above.

In-person TV interviews are different from anything you’ve done before — even via remote video with tools such as Zoom.

They’re usually shorter than radio talk show, newspaper, or magazine interviews. And because they’re visual, your physical appearance and demeanor are more important than with any other media interview.

How do I know?

I’ve got a little experience with this.

I’ve been a guest on lots of national and local TV talk shows, from Australia’s “Today Show” (via satellite) to “CBS This Morning,” “The Montel Williams Show,” and “Eye to Eye with Connie Chung.” In addition to CBS, you might have seen me on the Nashville Network, CNBC, Lifetime, the CW Network, and the Family Channel.

first TV interview 2
In the mid-’90s, I gave actor George Segal advice on how to shop for a holiday gift for his new wife on “Home & Family” hosted by Chuck Woolery and Cristina Ferrare.

A little knowledge will banish a lot of anxiety, so I’d like to share nine things I’ve learned along the way that will help you prep for your big first moment in front of the camera:

1. Study the show before your first TV interview.

Have you ever researched a company before a job interview? This is the same thing. Knowing what to expect in any environment does a lot to lower your anxiety level.

Before your first TV interview, watch the show to learn more about:

  • Interview length
  • Types of questions the hosts ask — will they throw you softballs or do questions sometimes have an edge to them?
  • Whether viewers ask questions via telephone
  • Visual aids and props — they will probably hold up your book, but do guests tend to bring other props that help make the conversation more visually interesting?
  • What people wear

The more you know about the show’s format and tone, the more comfortable you’ll be during the interview.

2. Know what you want to communicate.

What, exactly, do you want to communicate about your book or topic during your TV interview? (FYI, “Buy my book” is the wrong answer.)

Your on-camera time goes by quickly (especially if you’re nervous), so if you don’t identify one or two important points to get across during your interview, you might be disappointed in the outcome.

Let’s say I’m the author of How to Bee-come a Backyard Beekeeper. (I’m not.) I can promise you that my local TV talk show hosts will probably chatter away about that time they stepped on a bee . . . how one of their siblings is allergic to bees . . . how they can never tell a wasp from a hornet . . . .

Well, you get the point. I need to define at least one message that’s important to communicate and practice working it into the conversation in different ways because if I don’t, the interview will be over before I know it. And I won’t have said what I wanted to.

Learn how to create those messages in, “Message development: Know what you want to say and how to say it.”

3. Don’t get comfortable.

Don’t lean back in your chair or on that sofa, no matter how comfortable it is. Sit up straight on the edge of your chair.

If you lean back or worse, slouch, you will be far less dynamic and will seem to lack confidence. Attention spans are shorter than ever, and viewers will change the channel quickly if what they’re watching doesn’t have energy and power.

4. Pump it up.

Cameras drain your energy. I can’t explain it, but it’s true.

Because of that, you need to be more animated than usual when you speak. You might feel silly taking everything up a few notches, but it looks natural on TV.

via GIPHY

5. Use your hands when you talk.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m nervous, I tend to sit still with my hands tightly clasped in my lap. That’s the exact opposite of what we should do on camera.

When being interviewed on TV, you want to use your hands freely, just as you do in an interesting conversation with a friend. To facilitate that, remind yourself to place them loosely on your lap when you settle in on the set.

Using your hands will help make you appear more energetic and animated. That makes for better TV.

6. Smile.

As viewers, we become more engaged with smilers than we do with frowners.

There are times, of course, when a smile doesn’t fit the subject matter. Even so, when the topic is a serious one, try not to look dour or angry.

In general, viewers want to look at people with pleasant expressions.

via GIPHY

7. Ignore the camera.

The only time you should look at the camera is when you’re answering questions from viewers phoning in to the show.

Otherwise, ignore the cameras and look at the interviewer. You’re having a conversation with the host. Focus on that, not what’s happening around you.

8. Wear something you like.

And wear something that’s appropriate for your appearance. I suggest wearing an outfit that:

  • Makes you feel good about yourself and
  • Will fit in with what the hosts wear or
  • Is appropriate for the type of work you do

For example, a landscaper or a chef would look silly in a suit that a banker or attorney might wear.

Going back to my imaginary role as the author of a beekeeping book, wearing my (again, imaginary) beekeeping suit makes more sense than a dress and heels. The latter would be a better fit if I were talking about the topic of a business book.

via GIPHY

9. Practice, practice, practice before your first TV interview.

Ask a friend to act as the interviewer so you can practice answering questions you expect to be asked.

Videotape your practice interviews to get a feel for how you might work in your one or two message points.

Study what works and what doesn’t; identify any distracting behaviors.

Watch how the pros do it

To help you prepare, study the behavior of authors and other guests on network morning shows — “Good Morning America,” and so on.

Most have had media training and while they won’t be as experienced as celebrities or regular guest experts, they will be more polished than most.

Pay attention to how they sit and speak, the language they use, and what they wear. Watch and listen for their message points. (Tip: They’re the sentences they repeat.)

With planning and practice, you’ll be ready for your close up in no time.

Use my resources to prepare

book publicity toolBuild Book Buzz Publicity Forms & Templates has exactly what you need to book your guest appearance and prepare for it.

It includes templates and samples for:

  • Emails you send to producers to get yourself booked
  • Message developing
  • Creating sound bites

Learn more and get your copy at the Build Book Buzz Publicity Forms & Templates information page.

What has been your most exciting book promotion moment so far? Please tell us in a comment!


(Editor’s note: This article was first published in April 2013. It has been updated and expanded.)

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

13 Comments

  1. My partner is a TV Cameraman.
    He often gets hired by corporations who prime their executives in front of the real thing: Camera, Lights, Interviewer.
    (And you thought they were all naturals, huh?)
    His take? It’s okay to be nervous. It’s normal. But you need to find a way to combat the nervousness, and many people fidget badly.
    Most of the high power execs fail abysmally the first time round. They stutter. They stare at the camera. They pick at their clothes, they fiddle with their hair, scratch their nose — you name it.
    If you have someone who can film you, even with a phone, while you talk to someone else — it will help you feel more confident and comfortable after a while.
    If you can get a list of questions beforehand — do so. You can prepare your answers that way.

    Hope it helps. 🙂

    1. Fantastic feedback, Silke! Thanks! I think one of the keys to overcoming nervousness is to remember to use your hands when you talk. That’s what we do naturally, but when we’re nervous, they’re either locked in our lap or firmly attached to our sides. Thanks for your helpful input.

      Sandy

  2. I’ve never been on TV. When I gave my speech at Toastmasters, I was all over the room. I used different gesures all the way through it. They liked my presentation, execept for one thing which I will eliminate next time. Thanks for the helpful tips. I’ll make a copy to file.

  3. I did my first television interview over 20 years ago. It took years to figure out to do what you wrote so well and succinctly here. Great advice.

  4. What great advice! Thank you. Now I just have to get up the courage to contact producers in our local area. Any tips on learning who the producers are? BTW, I loved Christina’s show. She was a fabulous host. What fun to meet her.

    1. I’m glad it’s helpful, JQ!

      There are several ways to get the names of producers but the best way might be to Google the talk show name, the station name, and the word producer. You can also check the station website, record the show and see if the show runs credits on screen when it’s over, or call the station.

      Good luck!

      Sandy

  5. I enjoyed this helpful article’s suggestions. I have participated in a few interviews, most of which I have warm memories. I have written a book about our multi-year of caring for mute swans that could not fly to open winter water to survive the snow.winter. We fed him twice a day, took him to the vet when he injured his foot by stepping on broken glass. Ralph, my husband used his camera to photograph our adventures with the mute swans while I wrote a book about mute wans. Ralph created our book and made it publisher ready. We self-published our book; sold about 650 copies.

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