What Will You Do With Your 15 Minutes of Fame?

Last Updated Jun 22, 2011 5:31 PM EDT

They say everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. What will you do with yours? In this post, I want to talk about some techniques for dealing with a radio or TV interview.

First, a bit of background on my perspective. My first job out of school was at a radio station, and my first business was a production company that produced a nationally syndicated radio show, for which I interviewed owners of thriving businesses every day for three consecutive years. I went on to write a book about some of the insights I gained from interviewing all of those successful company builders. Then I went from asking the questions to answering them on a nationwide media blitz to promote the book.

Recently, I launched a second book and have been out on the media circuit again. Last week I sat down for a 15-minute live interview with Priya David Clemens and Paul Sloan of BNET. Overall, I'd rate my performance a 7 out of 10. I hope you can avoid some of my mistakes and pick up a couple of tips from my approach to being interviewed.

[video=6244312-BNET]

Let's start with my mistakes.

Get out of the cave

There was an ocean between me and the studio, so we did the interview on Skype, which has its drawbacks. In hindsight, I should have taken the time to set up some more lighting in my office because I look as though I'm doing the interview from a cave.

Slow down
Whenever I do a live interview, I speak too quickly. I'm working on it, but there is something about going live that gives me too much of a kick. Maybe I should downsize from a Grande to a short Americano.

There were several things I did for this interview that helped me through it.

1. Write down four key messages beforehand
The day before the interview, Priya sent through some questions, which I scanned quickly. They were queries I had answered before and knew I could pivot to my key messages reasonably easily, so I didn't write down a formal response to each.

I did, however, jot down my four key messages. Here's the sheet I used for the interview:


My four key messages -- ceiling on control, TVR, recurring revenue, prevention -- are scribbled on the left of the page.

2. Pick your stories
For each message, I have a proof point and story or example to bring it to life for the audience. I've used the "ceiling of control" and "TVR" key messages so often that there is no need for me to remind myself of the story that goes with them, but you'll see to the right of the "recurring revenue" key message, I have jotted down the words "iPhone, Iron Mountain, Bloomberg, XEROX and Aquafresh." These are trigger words for me that correspond to a story for each message.

3. Talk in 60- to 90-second chunks
Most interviewers are not trying to skewer you by asking tough questions. I know when I interviewed people for my radio show, I was just trying to give them a little diving board from which to jump into their best ideas.

TV and radio are essentially superficial mediums. I used to edit a 30-minute interview down to a 90-second clip to air. All I was hoping for - indeed all I could run - was a short sound bite, and I desperately wanted the interviewee to sound reasonably intelligent and get through his or her bit without fumbling too much.

Remember that your appearance on a show is a reflection on the producer's judgment. The producer - and by extension the announcer asking the questions - wants you to be successful, so relax and press Play on your best sound bites.

I answer the first two questions in 60- to 90-second chunks, but then, at the 4:02 point in this video, I screw up. I had been talking for more than 120 seconds when Paul tries to interject a question, but I keep barreling forward. If I had been thinking in 90-second chunks, I would have paused around the time Paul had his question.

4. Tell your story rather than answer their questions
You'll notice if you cue up the video to the two-minute mark, Priya gives me a general softball question, which I use to tell a story I've told in dozens of other interviews.

One of the best pieces of advice I received in the media training for my first book launch was not to wait to be interviewed. Interviewers don't necessarily want you to answer their questions; they want to make a great segment. I assumed Priya had not read my book (she couldn't possibly read everyone's book to prepare for a daily show), so I didn't read too much into her questions. I think of an interviewer's query as simply guidance for which of my four key messages to start with.

At the three-minute mark of the video, Paul asks me another softball, which I use to launch into my key message number two: TVR, which stands for "teachable, valuable and repeatable" -- the scalability trifecta. We're just a few minutes into the interview, and I've already covered two of my four key messages. I'm feeling pretty good at this point of the interview, and so will you.

5. Pivot away from tricky questions
The first surprise of the interview comes at 4:20, when Paul suggests that building a business comes down to simply finding an idea that's scalable. That's one part of the process, yes, but there's a lot more to it, so instead of debating Paul, I use his comment to "pivot" the interview toward my third key message, recurring revenue.

A pivot is media-training lingo for changing the subject by using something in the interviewer's question to get into a new topic. I use Paul's question about Starbucks to shift the focus to how addicted most of us are to coffee and therefore what a great recurring revenue stream Howard Schultz has built. I checked the box on key message number three.

At 7:13 in the video, Priya digs in and asks what appears to be a dogmatic question: "You've been talking about products. What about services?" I use this as a segue into key message four, which is about the importance of transforming your business from one that has a "break/fix" mentality to one that sells the prevention.

6. Cling to your life raft
I think of my key messages as my life raft in a choppy ocean. I never want to swim too far away from them. At 14 minutes, Priya asks me about my next business idea, which was a question I had not anticipated (and I'm not ready to answer publicly), so instead of answering her question, I make a little joke and use the time that bought me to reload and reiterate some of my four key messages.

7. Have a call-to-action
At 16:32 Priya asks me if I have any last thoughts, an ideal springboard into my call-to-action (a five-minute pregnancy test of sorts for business owners to gauge whether they have a sellable company). Most professional interviewers like Paul and Priya will plug your business or product at the start and the end of your interview, so there is no need to obsessively refer to it throughout the interview (that will annoy both the audience and interviewer). At the same time, I always give some thought to what my call-to-action will be if an interviewer gives me the opportunity to have the last word.

I'm curious -- what do you do to prepare for your 15 minutes?

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John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You.
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  • John Warrillow

    John Warrillow is the author of Built to Sell: Turn Your Business into One You Can Sell. He has started and exited four companies. Most recently, he transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which was acquired by The Corporate Executive Board. Watch this video to hear John's thoughts on starting and growing a business you can sell.

    John and his book "Built to Sell" have been featured in CNN, MSNBC, Time magazine and ABC News. John was recognized by BtoB Magazine's "Who's Who" list as one of America's most influential business-to-business marketers.

    John now divides his time between homes in Toronto, Canada, and Aix-en-Provence, France. He is a husband and father of two rambunctious boys.