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Years ago my on-air partner, Brooke Daniels and I interviewed the author of a book about a famous murder case. Although the case involved sex, abuse, fame, frame-ups, and all the other elements of a very juicy story, the author was as dry and unpalatable as cheap beef jerky. After a few very tedious minutes using every weapon in our arsenal to try and make the guy sound interesting, we said our good-byes to Mr. Monotonous.
Then, since honesty was always the primary policy on our show, we began an on-air discussion of what had just happened. . Flush with frustration over a waste of airtime, we decided to take an off-the-cuff poll. The results? Ninety-five percent of our callers said the experience had turned them off to author interviews so much, that they never wanted to hear one again.
We never said the poll was binding, and in the years since I have interviewed many authors and given plenty of thought about what transpired on the air that day. In retrospect, we had no one to blame but ourselves, since we booked the interview with a publicist and never requested to hear the guy before the show. This should serve as a future caveat to hosts and producers. Milk the cow before you buy the cow. Or something like that.
However, if you're a potential guest who desires to recreate that memorable experience my listeners and I had so long ago, if you're chomping at the bit to coerce the listeners (or viewers) to turn the dial with wrist-breaking velocity, and if "compelling" and "fascinating" are two adjectives you never want to hear after your interview, here are a few easy-to-follow tips.
1. Never get to your main point. Why take the freeway of ideas to the most direct exit, when you can meander on the side roads for an entire hour? Distill and prioritize? Not for you, buddy. Make sure you wait until the host is snoring and his eyes are glazed over before you hit him with your best shot. Make sure this occurs in the last minute of the interview so you won't have adequate time to explain the reason you're there in the first place. Leave 'em wanting more so you can explain everything the next time, because the host is sure to invite you back.
2. Be totally unfamiliar with (or ignore) the host's style, format and time requirements. Homework is for losers, not smart people like you, right? Why would you want to take the time to research the host's show before you sit down to talk with him? Everyone knows all blind dates turn out blissfully wonderful. Be sure to do the exact same type of interview for all hosts and stations. There's not much difference between Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Morning Zoos and NPR, anyway. And remember to ignore the host or producer's direction. He's not really talking to you when he says he needs short answers. He's talking to those other, boring guests.
3. Use insider jargon, obscure facts, and as many big words as possible. Remember, you're on the air to lift the moronic masses to your stratospheric level, not to entertain or inform them. If you're a doctor, try saying things like "it produces a blockade of voltage-sensitive sodium channels, resulting in stabilization of hyperexcited neural membranes" instead of, "it helps prevent seizures." Listeners will be so impressed they'll run right to their medical dictionary! Even the ones in cars! If you're a politician or political expert, be sure to refer to things like the "Initiative and Referendum Act of 1963." Yep, that was quite an Act. Back then, it was all the other six-year-olds and I talked about at recess.
4. Overuse Statistics. Four out of five listeners will not be transfixed with more than 6 percent of your interview, and four-fifths of the 40 percent who are still listening after 90 seconds will be 3.28 times as likely to turn to a music station as 41 percent of the average college educated head of household who was never listening to you in the first place, a number five times that of all Americans who didn't hear more than 6 seconds of your interview since last year. The previous sentence has a statistical error rate of plus or minus three percent.
5. Speak rapidly and don't repeat or explain what you say. Studies have shown that listeners hang on to every single word of an interview, sitting with rapt attention at the beginning, and not uttering a peep until it's over. Repetition and down-to-earth explanations would only bore these people. Remember, absolutely no one is driving, eating, working, talking on a cell phone, taking care of screaming children, sitting in a crowded room or picking up dog vomit while listening.
6. If you don't know the answer, just make one up. Neither the host, the listeners, nor your colleagues will ever call you on it, and saying "I really don't know, I'll have to check it out and get back to you" makes you sound unprepared and ignorant. See "Insider Jargon," "Obscure Facts," "Big Words" and "Overuse of Statistics" for guidance in formulating some kind of answer.
7. Sound rehearsed, tired, and bored. Listeners are a very understanding and compassionate lot. They know their favorite station is number 200 on a national book tour and that you've been making the same comments about the same topic for months. They'll actually applaud your ability to repeat the same interview verbatim and ad infinitum. In time, you'll develop Grateful Dead-style groupies who will follow you from city to city, trading bootleg tapes of your interviews and waiting for you to slip up and change just one word!
8. Speak softly with a monotone. Who wants to listen to an egotistical guest who talks above a whisper and uses variation in tone? Speaking softly forces listeners to move more closely to the radio, thereby providing a more intimate media experience. You'll be sure to get more air time when a good portion of your interview consists of the host asking "What did you say?" and you repeating the comment. And a monotone? It'll become your best friend, taking the focus off of you, and onto your topic, where it belongs. Besides, you don't want to threaten the host by being too animated, thereby making him think you're after his job! The more intimidated a host is, the more quickly that guest will get thrown off the air with a curt, "Sorry, but we've run out of time."
Oops, we really have run out of time. But I promise if you follow these eight easy steps, you too can be the guest no one wants to book.
Copyright © - Roberta Gale. Reprinted with permission. Roberta holds a Master's degree in journalism and has spent 21 years as a talk host in the New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Miami, Baltimore Atlanta, Washington DC and Cleveland markets. She was nationally syndicated by Westwood One and has hosted shows for the ABC Radio Network. She is president of Roberta Gale Media Coaching.
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