NRB: More Interview Tips and Reflections

Today’s topic is a few more notes on interviewing and being around the media, another installment of what I call tales from the front, this time drawn from post-NRB musings.

Being at NRB with journalists is something I really enjoy and the clients I was privileged to assist enjoyed the time, too, but they did ask some questions that might be things you are also wondering about.

One of the most common questions is: What should I wear?

Of course, most of the time when you are interviewed you will not be face to face with the media host, you are more likely to be on the phone. But when you are being seen – whether that’s on a video platform like zoom, or in person at something like NRB or the Christian Product Expo (CPE) that’s coming up in August — you need to think about how you present yourself.

Note that’s not exactly the same as asking what to wear.

When asked about what to wear at an in-person event like NRB, I tell authors they should dress in whatever is comfortable for them, and also dress how they want to be seen as an author. The events are generally some version of business casual, which is part of what they are asking, but the more important part is about how they want to be seen.

And the question really applies to any event when you are in person as an author, such as a book signing, or a book launch party.

Most of my clients are non-fiction authors, so my advice is always to think about appearing professional which projects seriousness and a bit of authority. One way to achieve that, for both men and women, is to wear a jacket. But it’s not a requirement.

For NRB this year, one client wore a jacket and tie every day. His topic is quite serious, and I think that was how he wished to be seen. Another client’s book is part of the work of his ministry organization, so he wore a polo shirt with his organization logo on it. That worked too.

On the other hand, I also believe I’ve seen some people who are quite striking or memorable – or well known – who may choose to dress more casually to cultivate being approachable. I don’t know Josh McDowell, but the year I saw him at an industry event coming out of an interview suite in a red polo shirt and red and white print golf-type pants was not only clearly memorable, but it made him look easy to talk to. Accidental? On his way to a tee-time later? I don’t know.

And then there are the authors who do have a persona they are cultivating, so they affect a look, a costume really, and that’s a different thing but can be quite effective. One of my previous clients always wore green, and she always wore a hat. And I’ve written here before about the woman I remember in the velvet cape.

Authors aren’t the only ones who affect personas, of course, as some media people themselves are working to perfect their brand. I caught Lindy-Ann Hopley (pictured above) on the show floor at NRB doing some coverage for Real America’s Voice in this striking sequined jacket. I remember her from NRB last year when she was doing thoughtful podcast interviews from her own carefully curated set where every detail – from furniture to coffee cups to clipboards to her own outfits – was beautifully and tastefully color coordinated.

And then, at the other end of the spectrum, this year’s NRB featured more media guys doing interviews on camera in baseball caps and T-shirts than I remember previously.

Hopefully it’s obvious that an author doesn’t need to worry about what they wear in connection with what the media people are doing or wearing. The author just needs to focus on how they present themselves.

One or two other things to keep in mind as well –

If you are anticipating being interviewed for the first time, as a way to prepare, it’s always helpful to watch some interviews on TV. Podcasts are OK, but they tend to be a bit more stationary. For this purpose, it’s good to watch a stand-up interview in a setting where a journalist has a mic and they are holding it while asking questions of a local official or something, rather than a press conference with the person at a podium.

Or you might look for a feature story in a studio setting – not a crisis situation, but the kind of interview where the journalist and the guest are facing one another in chairs.

And then watch for a couple of things.

First of all, note the guest being interviewed isn’t looking at the camera, he or she is facing the journalist and they are having a conversation.

In today’s zoom-friendly world, more and more often a journalist will remotely interview someone who has to look into their own computer screen to respond. In that setting of course, the interview guest is facing the camera, but don’t let that confuse you. An interview is intended to be back and forth between two people who ignore the camera.

I’ve spoken before of the tennis match analogy for an interview, so that’s worth noting too. Interviews are more interesting when they volley back and forth, with neither side getting too lengthy in what they say.

Of course, sometimes an answer from a scientist or medical researcher gets a bit long by necessity, but I’m guessing your answers don’t have to be.

Note also that even when the topic is quite serious, unless it’s a tragedy and Kleenex is involved, most of the time the guest will be cordial and find something to smile about. It’s more enjoyable to watch an interview when a person is pleasant. However, this may take a conscious effort, as sometimes when people get nervous, they tend to frown or forget to smile. So, my best advice of all is to relax and smile (even for radio) and don’t worry if you feel like you didn’t get all the answers correct. God uses our imperfect efforts anyway, so just enjoy the opportunity.

Originally sent as an email to the Buoyancy community on June 9, 2023.
Joni Sullivan Baker
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