Thursday, August 11, 2011

How not to lose your head

I could tell Ralph just wasn't getting it.

Ralph - not his real name - had been interviewing me on live Christian radio for the previous 25 minutes about my new book, Too Blessed to be Stressed. Ralph was broadcasting from a station in the northeast and I've got to give him points for taking on the daunting task of a man interviewing a female author about a woman's book.

My publicist had sent him a copy of Too Blessed, but my first clue that he hadn't read my book was when he kept popping out questions like, "But what about men?" or "Don't you think men get stressed too?" when I'd relate some tidbit making a point about women's stress issues.

This was a women's book, for pity's sake. 

Then came the coup de grace.

With five minutes left of the interview, I could practically hear Ralph flipping pages, searching frantically for a final question to end with a bang. With relief in his voice to have finally hit upon a topic with which he felt comfortable, he said, "Oh, look - I see you've written a chapter about Martin Luther. Go ahead now and tell us about 'Luther's Legacy.'"


How on earth was I to tell this guy that Luther was a monkey. No, really. A ringtail capuchin monkey. And the chapter entitled "Luther's Legacy" was about little hairy Luther's human owner's unconditional love for him despite his propensity for creating constant trouble for himself. Not unlike the unconditional love our heavenly father shows toward us.

Oh, man. I shot up a rhino-in-the-road prayer for help. How was I going to get out of this one without a car wreck?

A half-dozen ways to handle the situation flashed through my head during the momentary gap of silence that followed. But as you know, silence on live radio is a BIG problem. So I decided to go with my first impulse to simply laugh about it.

"Ha-ha!" (what I hoped was a pleasant and not desperate laugh.) "Well, Ralph, there were no theses or nails involved with this Luther. He was, in fact, a monkey."

Thankfully, although Ralph was silent at first, he eventually saw the humor in the situation as I imparted some of Luther's crazy exploits and we ended on a light, companionable note.

Vehicle swirved. Wreck avoided. Thanks, Lord.

Media interviews can be hairy, for sure. Although part of the package sent to the newspaper reporter, radio host or TV interviewer contains "suggested questions" that you've compiled (and studied ahead of time and conveniently know the answers to!), it's been my experience that they're rarely ever covered. I don't know if interviewers resist being told what to ask and prefer to wing it, but I can only remember a few times when we actually got past the first suggested question before the interviewer ventured into uncharted territory.

Even when they haven't read the book, which is the majority of the time.

A good interviewer can fake it well, having previously acquainted themselves with the fast-read stuff: the foreword, back cover copy, endorsements and table of contents to get the gist of the material. They might even thumb through a random chapter or two and highlight a few points that struck them.

But they're depending on you, the author, to grab whatever ball they toss out and run with it, adding your own interesting and preferably humorous tidbits and sound bites. And the shorter the interview, the sharper and deeper the sound bites need to be.

That's why, particularly for radio interviews conducted by telephone, most authors surround themselves with cheat sheets from which they can draw clever and pertinent zingers to redirect most any question to. We may not have the answer to the specific question the host asks, but we have a good answer to some question and if we skillfully redirect our answer to our prepared response, the listener is satisfied, the host is happy, and we end up looking like we halfway know what we're talking about.

The key is to compile easily accessible main points from your book and keep referring back to those when off-the-wall questions throw you for a loop.

I finally wised up with Too Blessed to be Stressed (after fumbling inanely through my last 3 books searching for info I couldn't seem to locate during interviews). I tabbed and labeled key points. Now I can flip right to whatever it is I'm looking for, no muss, no fuss. And no embarrassing air silences which I have to end by saying, "Well, golly, I can't seem to find it, but I think I said ..."

So what about you? I'd love to hear your stories. How do you get out of hairy situations without making a monkey out of yourself?



Daphne Tarango said...

Hi, Deb!

Coming from someone who used to be a reporter, I'd have to say that we don't generally like it when others give us our questions. We may use one or two, but we want to come up with the zingers! :)

How do I deal with not losing my head in interviews?

I prefer telephone interviews because like you, I keep notes nearby and refer to them as necessary. I have a couple backup comments and if the interviewer has not asked me specific things that I wanted to share, then I wait until the end when they ask, "Is there anything else you would like to add?"

"Why yes, there is..."