Preparing for TV/Radio/Podcast Interviews


By Sylvia Brodbeck, Communication Fellow ‘17

I am always in awe watching Matt and Iman at work. Today, walking into the Launchpad it’s time to confront our fears and, quite literally, get ready to launch. “How many of you feel nervous at the thought of being interviewed? Show of hands,” Matt begins. There is only a slight nervous flutter; after all, Matt and Iman are geniuses at putting everyone at ease. He rephrases the question: “How many of you would feel nervous if you were asked to do an interview for, let’s say, ‘60 Minutes’?” I don’t think I have ever seen anything quicker than our collective unanimous reflex. All hands have gone up. In fact, I have put both of mine in the air. What is it, I wonder, that makes this prospect so terrifying? After all, we communicate each day. We are at Harvard. We are opinionated. We have things to say, things that are worth listening to.

A quick role-play demonstration with Matt and Iman shows us that communication, especially when in the form of TV interviews is about much more than our usual idea of communication. It’s not just what we are communicating or how we are communicating but, crucially, how we are perceived to be communicating. What does your slouchy posture say, for example? You may feel laid-back, but to the audience you may come across as disinterested. Cool may turn into cold, and the viewer could very well switch channel.

Awareness is key. In the land of sound bites and limited time we frequently only have 10-20 seconds to distill our key message in a way that’s meaningful. To make his point, Matt takes us through the “8 P’s”:

-       Presentation: How are you presenting your material? Do you run your sentences together? Do you have a sense of the time it takes for you to make a point? You’d be surprised just how “off” our perception can be.

-       Preparation: This isn’t just about preparing the content. Ask yourself some questions that may seem peripheral, such as: Where will the interview take place? 

-       Posture: The mirror is your friend (no, really)! Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think about what your body language is communicating. Do you like what you see? And, more importantly, does it enhance what you are trying to say?

-       Presence: Be there. Make eye contact. Have the confidence to be natural under the spotlight, which leads to…

-       Personality: First of all, rest assured: you do have one, and it is uniquely interesting – don’t let it die the death of over-rehearsed presentation. However,…

-       Practice: Try it right now: take out your phone, turn on the video camera and give me, in 15 seconds, a quick sound bite on how you got to HGSE. Now go back to see what you said, how you said it and how long it took. This exercise, which looks deceptively simple, proved surprisingly difficult when we tried it during the workshop. The main take-away here: keep practicing! You’ll see me around campus doing the same.

-       Pacing: Take your time but …don’t…lose…the…thread and don’t rush either. If you are an “um”-er, acknowledge the need to take some time to reflect on what you are saying. There is nothing wrong with that, but instead of filling this “thinking” pause with an “um”, substitute it with an in-breath.

-       Apparel: (It is actually down to Matt’s great communication skills, that I am even counting this as a “P”!) Not immediately obvious, the question of clothing is actually very important, not just in terms of image but also in terms of tech. For instance, you never want to be wearing a blue suit in front of a blue screen - you’d literally be just a talking head! 

At the end of our session, my friend and I leave feeling slightly overwhelmed but also tremendously excited. Phones in hand we are off to search for a corner to continue practicing in. As we find the perfect nook hidden away in Gutman, sunlight streaming through full-length windows, I feel extremely privileged and grateful to be able to live and communicate my passion here at HGSE. And there it is: my 15-second message. Wasn’t (quite) so hard after all…