Interview not Conversation

On Get Published, you can hear me talk about screenwriting, novels and Hollywood tagline writing.

During my career, I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times on practically every media outlet: radio, podcasts, TV programs, magazines and newspapers. I’m an extrovert who writes, so I rather like being interviewed. (I know this is a strange combination: prolific writer who loves to gab.) My friends in L.A. think I’m an odd glitch in an otherwise well-designed universe. They also want to come up with a new word that describes people like me.

interview IMG_2855Talking shop about movies, novels and stories in general is enjoyable because I’m passionate about it. I keep up-to-date on everything new in my industry (Hollywood and the literary world), and I like imparting what I know, or have learned, to anyone who’s interested in the subject.

But, there’s a big difference between having a conversation and being interviewed. In a conversation, there’s a tendency to talk over someone else, express yourself animatedly, raise your voice, or even intentionally interrupt to get your point across. Okay, maybe that’s just me and the fall-out from my mother’s Midwestern genes.

In an interview, while you’re trying to remain conversational—after all, no one wants to listen to someone reading prepared answers (yawn!)—you have to consciously make an effort to slow down and speak clearly.

It sounds easier than it is.

If you’re a writer who gets an opportunity—and it really is a great opportunity—to give an interview, try to do as much as you can to prep before it takes place. Impromptu is great if you’re good at winging it, but most people get nervous, and there’s nothing worse than dead air. (That “nothingness” that you hear every so often on the radio.)

Do some research and find out about the radio station or podcast—listen carefully to previous interviews and what the interviewer’s style is like. Ask if they can provide you with questions before hand, or even offer ideas of what you’d like to be asked. Review your questions; write out the answers if it helps you formulate your responses. But, try not to “read” them on air. It sounds unnatural and stilted. Instead, practice your interview with a trusted friend or family member. There are loads of tips and good advice online, too.

Remember to stop, breathe, listen to the questions carefully (sometimes the interviewer changes direction). I tend to pepper my interviews with “um.” (Don’t do that!) It’s my way of thinking and taking a breath, but it’s much better to simply stop for a moment, think and then answer.

After you’ve given your interview, listen to it carefully. A lot of people don’t like the sound of their own voice, or cringe at their replies because they think they’ve blown it, but usually you’re your worst critic. Listening to yourself will give you ideas on what to do differently next time, what things to improve upon, or even to cheer because, hey, you got through it and lived!

Jennifer B. White is an award-winning director, writer and Hollywood copywriter and tagline writer. All her opinions and photos are her own.  

One response to “Interview not Conversation”

  1. Adam F. says:

    What a great podcast interview! Been following you for a while cuz your wit makes me laugh out loud. Truly a breath of fresh air, and encouraging to stick to your passion and fight on!


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