|photo by sky#walker|
The most common advice you hear about giving an interview is to "Be yourself." Sounds easy enough- you are yourself, so how could you ever not "be yourself?"
But if you've ever actually done a television interview, you know that it is indeed possible. In fact, I've known professional broadcasters who struggled with this after doing live tv everyday for months, even years (including myself). I've seen some co-workers, politicians, and interview guests who in the newsroom were funny, engaging, big personalities, but as soon as they got in front of the camera their "real selves" disappeared, and they became flavorless, carboard cutout versions of themselves. I think some of it's nerves. Some is probably a desire to appear "professional".
You want viewers and potential readers to see the best version of yourself, which is always the most authentic version. So how can you "be yourself" on tv?
One of the best approaches is NOT to try to memorize what you're going to say beforehand. This doesn't work well for tv reporters, and it's not going to work for you. I'm not saying that you shouldn't think about the main points you want to get across before your interview. Definitely do that. But don't try to memorize word for word what you're going to say- that only invites nerves and the memory blackouts that come with them. Be confident that you know your stuff-- no one knows more about your book and about yourself. If you're trying to regurgitate a memorized speech, your tone of voice and your face will be stiff and uncomfortable instead of relaxed and open and capable of expressing a personality that viewers (and potential readers) can get attached to.
I know this because I've lived it. When I first started in television at 21 years old, I was anxious to project a professional-grown-up-newslady image. I memorized every word of my live shots and managed to get them all out again on the air in the correct order. But I cringe when I look back at my archive tapes of those early days. Not only was my personal style somewhat... um... lacking (check it out) but the girl on camera only vaguely resembled the "real life" person that my co-workers, friends, and family knew. It's uncomfortable to watch for me and no doubt viewers felt the same. A couple of years and many, many hours of live tv later I moved on to my next job and took Cardboard Amy right along with me. I was admittedly better, but still trying to be "on tv" instead of being myself.
Then I learned a really helpful exercise that changed my entire approach as a news anchor. I worked with a consultant/coach in a room with a chair, a table, and a video camera. I was given a script, and the consultant first asked me to read it on camera the way I'd normally read a script on the air. I did my best professional news delivery. Then he asked me to read it again as if I were reading to a roomful of pre-schoolers. I did, adding a more enthusiastic sing-song tone of voice and more facial expression. Finally he asked me to read it WAY over the top, like I'd never dare to do it during a real newscast. I really went for it, making it larger than life, lots of vocal inflection, lots of facial expression. I felt ridiculous, but hey, it was just us, and no one else would ever see me making a fool of myself like that.
Afterward, we watched the videotape together. It was very obvious which one had been the "best read", the one that I (and any other viewer) would find most engaging on tv. Guess which one it was?
Yep. The one where I had felt like I was reading like a crazy person. It felt so big, but it looked perfectly normal and so much better than I'd ever read a news script on tv. From then on I remembered that it's better to be a little larger than life, and when you feel like you're really out there, that's when you begin to reach viewers. It did a lot to help me get out of the cage of being "on tv" and to a place where I could "be myself" on the air.
This is something you can practice at home before a tv interview. Set up a video camera and have a friend "interview" you. If you need a list of questions you'll likely be asked, check this post: What They'll Ask-- What to Say
Do it a couple of times. First, the way you think it "should" be done. Then, a little larger than life. You'll probably find that your second try comes out looking a little more like the real you. Good luck, and keep writing!