How to Shine Like a Star in a TV Interview

Last Updated Jun 17, 2011 5:10 PM EDT

How to Shine Like a Star in a TV InterviewIf a successful career is in the cards, sooner or later you're bound to end up in that most terrifying of all places: staring right down the barrel of a TV camera.

You can master presentations, even public speaking to large groups, but nothing's more intimidating than facing a live television camera knowing millions of viewers are watching and listening to every word. And, if you screw up, you can never, ever take it back.

As Lou Hoffman, president of The Hoffman Agency, a global PR firm, wrote in an email, "Even after 25+ years of helping executives communicate to the outside world, it still amazes me how a smart and articulate executive can turn to mush when put in front of a camera."

I can definitely substantiate that. Fifteen years ago, I made my cable news debut, live on CNBC and CNN, and I can honestly say I got zero sleep the night before.

I just laid in bed thinking about how, in that five minute interview, I could either hit the ball out of the park or screw up a major product launch and destroy my credibility - maybe even a 16 year career - in the process. Dramatic, I know, but that's what I was thinking.

When the moment came, I did all right. What allowed me to relax and be myself instead of turning to mush was the preparation from the PR folks at Hoffman. So here, for the first time, is everything you need to know to kick ass on television - from Lou, Hoffman mass media director Sheri Baer, and the guy who gets to perform for the camera, me:

How to Shine Like a Star When You're Interviewed on TV
  • Focus, focus, focus. The big hairy problem with live interviews is that executives are trained to engage people and, in an uplink situation, you're just sitting in front of a camera with an earpiece. And sometimes you can even see a monitor of yourself in real-time. The whole setup is distracting and disorienting. So it's really important to focus on what you're hearing and imagine the interviewer(s) through the camera lens.
  • Try to relax and be yourself. Easier said than done, I know; just use whatever tricks work best for you. According to Lou Hoffman, "I always stress to executives to relax and be yourself ... breathe in, breathe out." And, as I said in last week's Press Interviews: 7 Tips For Great Results, "Be genuine, be honest, be yourself." Try to have fun with it; after all, it's your 15 minutes. Just remember, "You're being interviewed on TV because you're the domain expert, not the warm-up act for Conan O'Brien," says Hoffman.
  • Be prepared for a short segment and an audience with an even shorter attention span. Know your key takeaways, messages, and sound bites cold and deliver them clearly and concisely using colorful, descriptive language, catchy phrasing, and succinct, "Aha!" analogies and explanations. No run-ons, tangents, or babbling professorial answers.
  • Know the show, audience, and interviewer. Make average viewers care by explaining why your news matters and how it impacts their lives. Speak to a broad audience; avoid business jargon, insider speak, or technobabble.
  • You have more control than you think. The interviewer's asking the questions, but you're the one giving the answers. Never be misleading, BS, or respond to a question based on a faulty premise. It's okay to morph the question if you think it will help your answer to make more sense, nail a key message, or interest viewers.
  • Make your limited time count. Look, getting in front of all those eyeballs is a precious event, so make it count. Refer to your company and product names when appropriate and, if you get the last word, take the opportunity to knock your key message out of the ballpark.
  • Assume the camera and mic are always on and rolling. You know all those fun little off-color or out-of-context remarks that get all sorts of people fired from their jobs? They typically happen when a mic that shouldn't be on, is. It's like a gun; you always assume it's loaded and the safety's off. Also, when the interview's over, don't budge or utter a sound until you get the "all clear."
  • Know how to behave on camera. Here's a laundry list of "on-camera" dos and don'ts: If there's an in-person interviewer, look at him, not the camera; otherwise, try your best to "engage" the camera; wear bold, solid colors, not white or small checked patterns or plaids; sit comfortably but with good posture; it's okay to be animated and passionate, but avoid fidgeting, shifting eyes, rocking, or swaying; turn off your phone and empty your pockets; have water handy; and know what you can and can't say on camera.

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