By Guest Blogger, Tom Martin, President, Tom Martin Media
Back in 2004, when I told my colleagues at ABC News that I had decided that 20 years in the news business was enough for me and I was moving into the field of public relations, the reaction was “mixed,” to put it mildly. Many of my producer friends acted as if I had suddenly announced I was selling my soul to the devil and prostituting my integrity to the highest bidder. Needless to say, I don’t see it that way.
I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller – whether I was producing stories for Diane Sawyer or crafting a PR campaign for one of the brilliant authors I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past five years.
It’s not surprising that many of the best storytellers I’ve encountered, by the very nature of the path they’ve chosen, are authors. I’ve found, however, that after devoting themselves so intensely to pouring themselves into their book – a process which frequently takes years – most authors are not prepared for the “cut to the chase” nature of telling potential readers about their book through the news media. Asking an author to take a message that required hundreds of pages to express and translate it into a four-minute interview on a national morning show is akin to asking Tolstoy to condense War and Peace into a 140-character “tweet!” It’s not easily done – and let’s just say that some of the “nuances” will be sacrificed along the way!
My intention here is to give authors a few tips on how they can make the most of a short interview, and do it in a way that actually inspires those watching, listening or reading the interview to head to their local bookstore (or log onto Amazon.com) and buy a copy of the author’s book. Here are six principles to keep in mind prior to sitting down in the studio with Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, or the book editor of your local newspaper. Keep in mind that these suggestions are the result of producing hundreds of interviews as well as my experience coaching numerous bestselling authors on how to make the most of an interview opportunity.
- Come to the interview with three key message points in mind. If you think “the speed of light” is fast, wait until you experience just how fast a television interview moves when you sit down in studio to be interviewed for the first time! It will seem as if the interview is over almost as abruptly as it began. Also, in those four or five minutes, an interview can take turns you could never imagine. Prior to any interview, review the three ideas you want to be certain to communicate to your audience, and make sure that you deliver the most important idea of those three within the first 60 seconds of your interview.
- You actually have more control over the interview than you might think. When interviewed for the first time, many authors handle the experience as if it were the verbal equivalent of a tennis match. “Here comes the first question,” they’re thinking. “I wonder if I can hit it back!” It’s far more effective to respond succinctly to the interviewer’s question, and then bring up one of those three key message points. A good way to do this, after responding briefly to the question that was asked, is to say, “Would you like to know what else I found is really important?” I can promise you that your interviewer will not say, “No, don’t tell me.”
- Make serving the audience more important than “looking good.” My friend Saskia Shakin captures this idea beautifully in her book More Than Words Can Say. We all naturally want to look good and make a great impression. This becomes a problem, however, when we start imagining that we must be as skilled an orator as Barack Obama or have the sesquipedalian vocabulary of the late William F. Buckley, Jr. (The guy knew how to use “really big words!”). It’s far more effective to be yourself. We’re all fascinated by our fellow human beings, and we can instinctively sense when someone is speaking passionately about a subject that is close to their heart. There’s no need to “fake it,” when you can be yourself and truly connect with your audience.
- Your enthusiasm is more important than what you have to say. Just as it’s essential to “be yourself” in an interview (after all, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “everyone else is already taken”), it is best to focus on your intention for the interview rather than perfection in your choice of words. Yes, it can be very valuable to come up with some catchy phrases and be able to “paint a picture” by succinctly using vivid details when you’re telling a story, but it’s far more important that you feel a sense of enthusiasm about the information you’re sharing with your audience. This enthusiasm will naturally come through in your body language, and your audience will begin to share that feeling, and want to prolong that experience – i.e., many of those viewers will want to buy a copy of your book.
- Remember that it’s an interview, not a commercial. After spending so much time writing their book closeted away hovering over their computer, many authors salivate at the very thought of having a few minutes to tell Matt Lauer and seven million viewers about the wonderful result of all that hard work. These authors suddenly and mysteriously take on the persona of used car salesmen. (“Let me tell you about the dashboard features, and the amazing fuel efficiency!”) It should come as no surprise that approaching an interview in this way is not only a good way to alienate your audience, but it is also one way to make sure that you’re never invited back for another interview.
- Give your audience a way to continue the relationship. If you’ve kept these other suggestions in mind, it’s quite likely that your audience will be captivated by your message, and want to hear more from you. Perhaps they’ll even be inspired to rush out to the bookstore to buy a copy of your book. As Dan Ariely shares in his brilliant book, Predictably Irrational, once we’ve “put our own reputation on the line” by “admitting to ourselves” that we like someone or something, we all tend to want to repeat that experience. After all, if we demonstrated the good judgment of liking something the first time around, then certainly someone with our brilliant intellect couldn’t possibly be wrong, could we? (Ariely says this is why Starbucks quickly became such a phenomenon. After so many of us were tempted to spend five dollars on a “half-caf, extra dry, mocha chai macchiato” just to give it a try, most of us were naturally inclined to “validate” that impulsive purchase by visiting Starbucks again the next day to make the same purchase, and the day after that, and so on.) Although I’ve cautioned you not to step into the role of “salesman” during your interview, I do think it’s a good idea to let your interviewer know that you “love receiving e-mail” and “have much more information on this topic” on your website. Tell viewers (or listeners, or readers) specifically how they can continue their relationship with you. Once they’ve followed you from your televised interview to your website, it’s a short hop from there to Amazon.com to buy your book.
At this point, I think it’s a wise idea for me to follow my own advice and leave the stage. I personally love hearing authors talk about their books, and I hope to have an opportunity to catch one of your interviews! If you have a chance to put one or more of these tips into action during an interview, please e-mail me and let me know how the experience went for you. Better yet, post your interview on YouTube, so that you can share it with me – and the world!
Tom Martin is President of Tom Martin Media, LLC – a highly-personalized, full-service public relations firm based in Connecticut and New York City. Tom invites you to e-mail him at Tom@TomMartinMedia.com and he invites you to visit his website – www.TomMartinMedia.com — for more information.
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