Good writers prepare thoroughly for interviews, whether they’ll be conducted in person, over the phone, via e-mail, or (increasingly) over a social media channel. But all too often, interviewees don’t realize that they also need to prepare for interviews just as thoroughly as — if not more than — the writer.
Why? Because an interview is a ritualized form of conversation; it is not (or should not be) two simultaneous parallel monologues. We’ve all heard interviews like that — the interviewer has his checklist of questions, the interviewee has her checklist of points to make, and both take turns running down their lists until they’re done. Dreadful stuff, right?
On the other hand, when an interviewer and an interviewee both do their homework in advance, they can focus on talking to each other, which leads to better quotations, more compelling anecdotes, and a stronger connection to readers.
Based on a decade of interviewing a wide variety of people for all kinds of articles — and being interviewed a few times myself along the way — here’s a short list of simple suggestions for how to prepare to be interviewed.
Summarize key points. Make a list of the three or four key points that the writer needs to leave with, and make sure they’re covered as thoroughly as they need to be. If the interview is wrapping up and one or more of them hasn’t been covered, don’t be afraid to say “Wait, there’s more.” The writer is there to be interrupted.
Prepare pithy quotes. It may sound shameless and crass, but look at it this way: if the writer didn’t want a good quote, he wouldn’t be calling you. He’d be getting what he needs from your website or your book or your press release. Think of an interesting nuance or twist that adds personality and makes your point memorable.
Recommend additional sources. Good writers are insatiably curious, and they want to learn more about the subject. If you can recommend a good book or article that covers the subject or another expert to speak with, be sure to mention it. You’re helping the writer to make a more well-rounded final product.
Prepare supplemental materials. If you have photos, graphs, or presentation slides that elaborate your key points, supply copies to the writer (in advance, if possible) along with information on reproduction rights, photographer credits, and captions.
Remember: you’re the expert. Speak with confidence and assurance about what you do and how you do it. You’re being interviewed because you’re a model for others (hopefully, not a model of what not to do). Someone thinks you know something that others would benefit from knowing too. Seize the opportunity.
By preparing to have a good conversation with a writer, you’ll make readers wish they could get to know you — and your business — better.