Now, given that performing well in an interview opportunity is important, how many times have you heard someone express satisfaction in having "nailed it"? How many times have you heard people (maybe even yourself) say, upon reading or viewing the final product, "I came off exactly as I had hoped! My message is so clear and concise"? Yeah, same here.
Most people don't know how, let alone what, to prepare when facing an interview opportunity. Consequently, many DON'T prepare. And we all know the old saying, "When you fail to plan you can plan to fail."
Here is an excellent example of just such a failure. It is not a business-to-business situation, but it is so well told that it serves as a poignant case study. Read how actress Michelle Williams expresses regret over an ABC News NIGHTLINE interview. In her interview with The Marquee Blog, Michelle says she felt she, "cross(ed) a line" with regard to what she intended to say and of the area she wanted to cover. She intended to keep certain issues very private yet she said, ... "it appeared as if I were breaking some kind of silence and sitting down with the express purpose to discuss something that is very private to me".
I really hand it to Michele for accepting responsibility for her interview, and for being bright enough to reflect upon the experience in an effort to correct herself. Let's use some of these lessons to help you.
You don't have to fail in an interview setting. Here's how to nail it.
#1: BEGIN AT THE END: Have an interview GOAL. Visualize how you want the interview to flow - how you want to appear - what you want to say - where you WON'T go - and what you want the audience to take away. Imagine the flow of the interview and the duration of an interview that would concisely cover your ground. Imagine that, immediately after experiencing your interview, your target audience responds EXACTLY as you hope they would. Do your best to visualize, to see in your mind, the perfect interview - the interview that achieved your desired results. Hey, if you don't know where you're going you'll never get there.
#2: ORGANIZE YOUR NUGGETS: Now that you know what you want to talk about, how much time you want to take to get it out (or comprehend it - from the audience's perspective), and how you want to be perceived, start organizing your data. In an interview you will be telling a story. In the business to business arena information should be arranged in the reverse order of your favorite drama book or movie. So put your conclusion right up front. Secondly, discuss the situations that make your product or service important. Thirdly, cite some facts that support your point. Finally, end with your conclusion. In other words, "Tell 'em what you're gonna' tell 'em ... Tell 'em ... Tell 'em what you told 'em."
"Data" also includes what you look like (in a video interview, or when a photo of you is used). Looks matter. Dress appropriately for the issue, topic, industry, and the audience. This is NOT a last-minute, "Oh, what shirt should I wear?"-type of thing. This must be planned - in advance.
Final point on this topic: WRITE IT ALL DOWN. Type it in, write it down. You will be amazed how much things change the moment they are put into writing.
#3: WORK WITH THE INTERVIEWER: Understand that any media representative has an important job to do. Know that most are professional. Also know that, in some situations, some people are willing to let you talk as much as you like - and then will edit things down considerably. Make it a point to prep the interviewer, as long before the interview as possible, of precisely WHAT you want to talk about, what you will not (or can not) talk about, the points you need to make, and how you hope the interview will go. During such a conversation it will become clear that either the interviewer will cooperate with your intentions or that they are on a different agenda.
Mass media celebrities, like Michelle - above, are often used by the media to attract eye balls. The juicier the interview the better. People like her have a much harder time cooperating with the media than we in the B2B arena do. In our world, interviewers and editors alike appreciate and desire brief, concise, useful content. You will find that the media will appreciate your organization and focus. That said, do NOT expect the media to simply accept highly-commercial blatherings. They have professional integrity and must stick to professional standards.
Another element of "working with the interviewer" involves you, as the Marcom leader, accompanying your engineer (or other person being interviewed) to the interview. Take some of the stress off of them by handling minor chores for them. For example, if at a trade show, take a quick final look at your colleague: remove their exhibition badge, take all the pens and metal rulers from their shirt pocket, etc. In addition, add further value by doing things the interviewee could never do. Monitor the interview - chime in when you see a chance to improve things. Whether it involves lighting, camera angle, content, flow, or even the need for a quick break - you can add value from the sidelines. In the image (right) I was monitoring the video capture on the interview technician's computer. I noted people in the background and other potential distractions. Be sure the interviewer is prepared for your involvement. CAUTION: Do not be a "stage mom". Everyone hates that person!
#4: ESTABLISH THE TIME, PLACE, DURATION, AND SETTING: You may or may not be in control of all these factors, but you MUST understand them, to the best of your ability. If possible, familiarize yourself with EVERY aspect of the interview situation: the room, the equipment, the people in the room, etc. Your goal here is to OWN the setting so that you are very comfortable. With comfort comes strength, composition, and command. When you're feeling great, you are better able to stick to your plan and reach your goal.
#5: REHEARSE: We all know about standing in front of a mirror and going through your "speech". Here I'm talking about much more than that. In an interview you are an actor - especially in audio and video. You have a voice, a style, a vibe. Take control of all that - rehearse the way you want to be seen and heard. Ideally (if preparing for a video interview) video yourself answering questions - any questions. It's cheap, fast, and easy to do. Then watch yourself. You will see so many things that you can't observe without the video. Countless nuances will catch your eye. You will note your posture, your attitude, your tone of voice, your hand motions, your eye contact, your words, all the pens in your pocket.
YOUR WORDS: Pay attention to every interview that you enjoyed experiencing. Note how infrequently successful speakers say words such as: umm, you know, uh, wanna', gonna', etc. Nothing erodes credibility as quickly as hearing a person stammering, stumbling, and relying on "comfort words". Ya' know?
A video or audio rehearsal (on any topic) will reveal many subtleties. This will be a great help in your preparation and toward reaching your goal.
#6: BOIL IT DOWN: There is afamous quote that goes approximately like this, "I would have written a shorter letter but I didn't have the time." In other words, be very organized and concise. Take the time to make your message concise. No one appreciates a rambling interview (exception: mass media hoping for "gotcha' moments"). Your target audience won't sit through it. The media looks bad when they purvey it. Condense your presentation into an elevator speech. Know that you will likely NOT be able to simply deliver a speech in an interview, but arrange things so that, during the give and take of the interview, you stick to your planned outline, points, and style.
Rehearse, and feel comfortable, saying, "That is something I am not prepared to discuss at this time", when necessary. Don't feel bad if you need to say it. In fact, feel GREAT saying it. You will be keeping yourself out of hot water when you use this properly. Additionally, if you have already prepared the interviewer to not go there, you will typically get positive affirmation even from them.
#7: ARRIVE EARLY: You being comfortable and relaxed will transfer to the interviewer and to your audience. It's the same when you are harried, stressed, and off balance. Arrive early, feel great, own the space, and shine.
#8: GET IN AND GET OUT: There's an old saying in the sales world: "When you've made the sale, stop selling." It is appropriate in the interview world, as well. Remember, you are not ever as fascinating or brilliant as you think you are. You will do yourself a great service by sticking concisely to your planned message and wrapping it up very quickly. Get in and get out. You will very likely shoot yourself in the foot by prolonging the interview process. The more you say, the more the interviewer has to work with. Then, the decision regarding what gets published and what gets left out rests with the media - not you. If you only say three crisp, clear, and concise points - that is likely all that will get published. YOUR message!
Any doubts? Just read the article that I posted above regarding Michelle Williams' interview regrets. The word she used to describe the results of her protracted, rambling interview was, "devastated". Do you want to hear that word from your boss?
#9: REQUEST A HAND IN THE EDITING: Some interviewers will scoff at the idea of you being involved in post production. Others will allow you to see the final product candidate and will accept ideas from you. A third group will actually WELCOME your offer. It can't hurt to ask. Approach it from perspective of "fact checking" and organization enhancement. I've rambled through an interview, expressed my regret at not crafting my thoughts better, asked to see the transcripts, then submitted my edited version. It can work. Always ask, respectfully. That said, always give an interview with the belief that you will NOT have any chance of being involved with the editing - be safe.
#10: STUDY & IMPROVE: Read your interview (or watch the video). Consume other people's interviews. Become a student of interviews. Know the ways of specific industry media, adopt the behavior of star interviewees. Even if you are a fumbling rookie today, you can be a sought-after industry celebrity - with a little polish.
#BONUS POINT: BECOME THE INTERVIEWER: If you have already accepted the mantra of "be the publisher" then you are ready for the next step. When you have a juicy point to purvey, interview your engineers, your product line managers, your tech support team, yourself, etc. Put these writings, audio files, and videos on your website, on your YouTube channel, in your blogs, etc. It's a great way to offer a variety of presentations to your target audience. Heck, you can even offer "multi-modal" presentations. Try slipping a video interview with a key customer into a PowerPoint presentation made to other customers, or to your internal audience. Variety is the spice of life!
Interviews happen. GREAT interviews are earned. Your work isn't done once you've earned the right to be interviewed - you've also got to earn great results during the interview. These tips should help. Let me know.