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How to give a good interview

How to give a good interview

It seems simple enough. Reporter contacts you for a quote or two to beef up an article he’s writing on a friend and business partner. All you need do is give the reporter your phone number and he’ll call you at an agreed time, you’ll have a friendly chat and he’ll try and draw something printable from your conversation.

However, some people see the process of the interview as a gladiatorial battle of wits – them against the media – where the media is trying to trick them into saying something controversial…forgetting the fact that the media is coming to them because of the controversial things they’re well known for saying.

As a result, more and more executives are asking for email interviews so their words can be beautifully massaged into key messages from the PR department/agency and there’s no chance of screwing up publicly. Mark Cuban and Jason Calacanis are two very high profile members of the tech industry who only take email interviews and who subsequently post the transcripts on their popular blogs to ensure their words aren’t taken out of context.

Which is a great, very transparent way to work it. The problem is that a good interview for Calacanis is different to a good interview for a reporter such as Fred Vogelstein. Vogelstein, he of the infamous “Microsoft Memo”, tried to interview Calacanis over the phone last week for a story about Michael Arrington in Wired. Calacanis refused, arguing he had been mis-quoted in the past and asked for an email interview.

Vogelstein then passed on the interview until Calacanis posted about the incident on his blog. After much hand wringing, a phone interview was set up. The caveat? Calacanis recorded the call for his podcast and the journalist not only became the story but scooped himself on his own story.

In a world of human conversation and interaction, great interviewees come across as charming, intelligent, knowledgeable and funny. If you’re being interviewed and want to get your story across effectively, you need to create a rapport with your audience – whether it’s one journalist on the phone or one million viewers on the other side of the camera – while answering the questions you’re asked.

Clearly both email and phone interviews have their place and lots of journalists love the immediacy of email interviews, especially near deadline. Getting a quick reply to questions over email can be quicker than coordinating schedules for a phone call, but what happens if there are follow-up questions? Can the journalist be assured that they get the quotes and context they need?

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Phone interviews are better for more depth – the interviewer, and interviewee, can explore many different threads of conversation as they organically crop up, but what happens if the interviewee just isn’t that loquacious?

For more tips on how to “give good interview”, you can read the excellent The Media Interview blog and I humbly present to you my own thoughts on the subject, including one of the best quotes I’ve ever seen or heard.

Ed Lee blogs on PR, social media and marketing when he’s not being a Senior Consultant at Canadian Internet Communications Consultancy iStudio.

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