5 Best On-the-Air Interview Rules


Authors are often called upon to do radio and television interviews. I’ve found that these five tips, originally written by Steve Allen[1] in his book, How to Make A Speech, are extremely valuable. I still use them today and have added a few bits of my own personal learning.

Rule 1. Act Naturally. “If talking on the air doesn’t come naturally, then try pretending that the interview is taking place on a park bench or in a rowboat.”

WH: For a radio interview I get as comfortable as I can and I try to find a picture of the host to have a visual to speak to. With television I try to look in the eye of the interviewer and relax as though I was having a cup at Starbucks with him or her.

Rule 2. Listen carefully to the questions. “Do not make the common mistake of starting to respond to what you think the questioner will ask. Interrupting, if repeated, will make you appear rude.”

WH: Allen is too nice. Interrupting does make you look rude and answering an unasked question makes you look even worse. Listen and answer politely, earnestly and with passion.

Rule 3. Don’t Ramble. “You are well advised to give your answers in short sentences.”

WH: Yes, you only have a set amount of time to give your perspective and, frankly, pitch your book. It’s best not to waste time just to hear yourself talk. I was fortunate to be mentored by a person who told me, “You should be able to talk about your topic in 8 hours, 1 hour, two minutes and a few seconds.” Good advice.

Rule 4. Think Ahead. “If you can’t think fast, then do as much preparation beforehand as possible.”

WH: You should have some questions in mind that may be asked. Take the time to review your book and your answers. Many times your publicist has submitted questions and you’ve answered them many times—think ahead on how you can retain emotion and conviction even if you’ve answered the question 100 times.

Rule 5. Rehearse. “Do an interview in the privacy of your own home or office, just to see how well you respond. Do you digress unnecessarily, or forget the point of the question? The time to find out about such problems is before you appear on the air.”

WH: I totally agree. I practice and practice some more. Interviewing is an art. Most hosts will not have read your book. They may go in many directions and even if you are very good on your feet, you need to be prepared. Dead air is as boring as a ramble.

These five rules should help you prepare and give excellent interviews. What other “rules” have you found helped you to give a remarkable interview? I’d like to hear them.


[1] For those of you who have never heard of Steve Allen, he was an American television personality, musician and author. He was one of the original hosts of the Tonight Show and a very funny, funny man.


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