You’ve done the work in building your profile, you’ve met the right person at a party, or you’ve popped up on Google at the right moment. Whatever the reason, you’ve been invited for an interview on the radio. Awesome! But maybe a little scary too? Well I’d love to help you prepare for your radio interview!
I spent ten years working as a radio producer and broadcast journalist, so it’ll come as no surprise that I LOVE the medium of radio. It’s personal, intimate and often allows you ample time and space to tell your story—if you tell it the right way!
Realistically, all the advice in this post is most relevant to a quality talk-radio station like an Australian ABC, SBS or community station. If you’re invited on a typical commercial radio station for an interview…umm good luck with that. You’ll have about 15 seconds to tell your story, with doof doof music playing as you speak—because, you know, an educated, interesting person speaking is just toooo boring on their own—but that probably won’t happen at all, so let’s assume you’re going to be on an awesome program!
I’m going to walk you through how to prepare for your radio interview, what to expect on the day and, the best bit, how to be asked back again and again.
Let’s start at the beginning: the preparation.
Here’s how it’s going to work.
You’ll be invited for your radio interview by either a producer—who is like an air traffic controller for a radio program—or the actual radio presenter.
Sometimes, it may simply be an invitation via email—particularly if the producer is familiar with you or you were recommended by another radio pro. Other times, it could be a phone call that itself feels very much like an interview! The producer will sometimes want to suss out the best questions, how you speak and so on.
You’ll probably be given a few days’ notice for your interview. Once you become a seasoned radio pro and you’re the go-to person for a particular topic, you’ll sometimes be called on the spot during the program!
Often, producers and presenters have many people to speak to in a short period of time, so don’t expect them to go to any great lengths to help you in this process of preparing for your interview. However, I recommend that you ask some simple questions to make sure you get the info you need!
Here are the questions I would ask at this stage:
Obviously, if you’re invited to a 7pm interview for a program than runs from 6pm to 9pm, it’s going to be a live to air. There’s no huge difference for you except that you would probably feel more comfortable knowing that a pre-recorded interview can be edited, but there are no guarantees that it WILL be! Either way, you should know which one it is, and either way, you should act as if it is live.
Using your trusty common sense, if the radio presenter is in Melbourne and you’re in Sydney, you can safely assume they want you on the phone.
However, if the station is in your town and you can get to the studio, I highly recommend you do it! And by that I mean cancel everything and make it happen! It’s infinitely better. The rapport with the presenter is better, you’ll sound better, and you’ll probably get to talk for longer. If it must be on the phone, be sure to be in a quiet room. Avoid hands free devices, Bluetooth connections, screaming children, wind (the weather kind) and any other potential distractions.
This can be a little awkward as you don’t really want to make it obvious that you don’t know who presents the program on which you’re being asked to speak. However, presenters can change for various reasons, so it’s better to be safe than sorry! Sometimes a producer will mention the name of the station but not the program, so make sure you find out as this will help you with your preparation.
This is important as you need to know how long you’ll be talking for and thus how much content you’ll need to have on the tip of your tongue!
Sometimes the answer to this question will be obvious, but if you’re being invited to the interview based only on your job (for example), you’re going to need some more specific info!
This is gold! You’ll get to the core of what they want.
Even as a communications pro, I often get ‘Wow, Thank you!’ messages from grateful producers and presenters who are spared having to scrape around doing Google research on their guests. Send them a short bio and the essential bits of into they need to know. No sales pitches please.
During their program, their presenter will be uncontactable, and the producer will probably be on a different phone number, so make sure you get the right contact info in case you get lost wandering the halls.
Let’s assume you’re heading to the studio—woohoo! When you get to the radio station, you’ll probably have a couple of waiting areas to get to know before you hit the actual studio.
Often there will be an opportunity to snap a pic with the station branding behind you—take this opportunity, or you’ll regret it later. Making the most of the whole experience by sharing it with your followers is just as valuable, if not more so, than the interview itself.
First, you’ll probably head into the producer’s booth, which is separated from the on-air studio by a glass wall. The producer and presenter communicate via intercom, curious facial expressions and probably slightly bizarre hand gestures.
The producer may have his/her hands full, so don’t be offended if you’re sat on the couch with the producer’s back to you. Take this opportunity to listen to the program and get a feel for the energy level. Take a look at (and listen to) the presenter—e.g. How far are they from the microphone? In what manner do they talk to their guests/callers? Is the vibe of the show serious or upbeat? How is the presenter talking about you or your segment and what are the listeners expecting to hear from you?
Just before you’re due to go on-air, you’ll be hustled in to the on-air studio and sat in front of a microphone (or possibly a standing-desk). Your microphone will usually be on the opposite side of the ‘desk’ from the presenter, with some computer screens between you. Adjust your seat and/or the microphone so that it’s directly in front of your mouth.
Again, the presenter may be juggling many things and may only manage a quick ‘Hi’ at this point! You’ll know when the presenter is on-air because of the big red ‘ON-AIR’ light that will illuminate. Take the presenter’s lead as to when it is an appropriate time for small talk.
You’ll have a pair of headphones to use, with their own knob for turning the volume up and down. Note that this has nothing to do with the volume of your microphone, which is controlled by the presenter or whoever may be operating the panel.
I recommend that you pop your headphones on with only one side actually on your ear—the other behind your ear. This prevents you getting freaked out by the sound of your own voice. If you’re not used to it, this can be a shocking, life-changing moment that doesn’t need to take place in the studio at this time. If you already know that you get a little weirded out by your own voice, ditch the headphones altogether. Lots of people do this, and it’s only a problem if you need to listen to music or a phone call being played on-air.
Now, let’s talk mic-technique. Why not start with the basics: you need to speak directly at the microphone, not to the side or from the side. Keep your mouth about a hand-width’s distance from the microphone (no closer please), and you’ll come out sounding silky smooth and sultry.
If you want to move to advanced mic technique, then you can start to adjust your body according to the power and loudness of your voice at a particular moment. For example, if you’ve got a big, beautiful laugh, you can move a little further from the mic or direct your mouth/voice slightly ‘off mic’ to prevent distorting the sound at that moment of hilarity.
The presenter (or whoever is operating the panel) will let you know when you’re going on-air. You’ll see the red light go on, and then it’s your time to shine!
Once you’re on-air, your goal is simply to be great company, so think of this as a conversation, not an opportunity to read from a script or start reciting your sales pitch—that’s a one-way ticket to never-being-invited-backsville. There’s no need to worry too much about what you want to say. Trust that it’s in your head, relax and let the conversation flow. You’re not steering this ship, so be comfortable in knowing that the presenter will slow you down or speed you up if need be.
If you’re prone to total blanks or have important facts and figures to remember, by all means, take some dot points, but if not, simply go in ‘nude’ and just chat!
I like this analogy that I was taught when I worked in radio: Imagine you’re sitting at the dinner table having a conversation. There’s no large group of listeners at your table, is there? There’s no audience. There is simply you, your presenter friend and your other friend who pulls up a chair (this is the listener). You always want to think about talking to one person. Isn’t this a very different feeling than talking to a crowd?
In my ten years working in radio, I don’t think I ever came across a guest who wasn’t nervous to at least some degree, even seasoned professionals. Inevitably, every guest would finish and ask, ‘Was that okay?’
Getting nervous is completely normal, so that’s the first thing to understand: expect it. It’s going to happen, and you can live through being nervous.
One trick that I find very helpful is to reframe or relabel the nerves. What does it feel like when you’re nervous? Butterflies in your tummy? Sweaty palms? Racing heart? What else feels like this? Excitement! So when these feelings hit, say to yourself, ‘I’m EXCITED!’ It sounds a little ridiculous, but it helps.
You might find it helpful to get talking before you get to the studio, and certainly, this is a great way to warm up your voice. If you’re in public and feel silly talking to yourself, try humming under your breath and going up and down like you’re playing scales on the piano. Get your facial muscles working. Stretch your mouth open upwards, then sidewards; think of making all the same faces that a man makes when he’s shaving.
Okay, so you’re as ready as you’ll ever be. Now, here’s how to nail that interview!
As a guest on radio, you’re referred to as the ‘talent’, and any guesses what radio producers and presenters are looking for? Great talent!
Yep, you’re like a juggling act or a poodle at a dog show. You’re here to add interest, colour, a new and different voice—oh! and of course, an informed opinion.
You could be the most knowledgeable and well-informed person on a certain topic, but the reality is that you won’t be asked back unless you’re interesting…unless you’re ‘good talent’.
Here are some ideas for how to come across as full of personality, interesting and all round ‘good talent’!
Smile when you talk, literally!
This simple trick completely changes your voice, and you’ll come out sounding warm and lovely. You’ll feel silly at first, but trust me, it’s a pro-tip that works wonders.
Let your personality shine.
The type of personality can range—think of Gordon Ramsay versus Nigella Lawson versus Jamie Oliver. They’re all very different personalities, but they’re definitely all very big personalities. For your character to come across well on radio, you have to let loose, take a risk and be 100% you.
If you’re being authentic, you’ll be able to be spontaneous and quick to answer questions from left-field because you won’t be filtering your answers. Don’t let your ‘professional’ or ‘corporate’ self answer—let your true personality out!
Find your inner confidence.
Everyone gets nervous, but you have to be ballsy enough to sound fairly relaxed and avoid being a ‘rabbit in the head lights’! You also need the confidence to sit back and let the presenter drive the conversation. They have a plan, so pace yourself, and don’t blurt out everything that you’ve got in one go.
Don’t try to be polished.
There’s nothing more boring than someone who is fresh out of ‘media training’. Someone who is measured and polite and wants to script every detail of their answer before they’re on-air. YAWN! You must have the confidence to laugh at yourself and to put yourself out there, otherwise you’ll sound like a politician, and nobody wants to sound like that now do they?
Share your uniqueness.
What’s that little extra thing that makes you stand-out from the rest? Hopefully it comes from you being authentic. It could be a broad Aussie accent or a particular catch phrase you have, a personality quirk or a unique story you have to tell. It could be anything, and it always makes you more engaging and interesting.
Don’t fake credibility.
Don’t be that person who fakes it. You do need some credibility, such as a qualification or significant experience in the field you’re talking about, but that’s not enough. You need to be articulate and able to respond well (and quickly) when you’re put on the spot. A good producer will brief you so that you’ll know what to expect from an interview, but you’ve got to be okay with some curve balls!
Be available, within reason.
In this case, the world revolves around the program, not you. If you’re serious about getting some air-time, you’ll need to make yourself available and be willing to sacrifice other commitments when opportunities arise.
Leave your sales pitch at the door.
Although you might want to score some media appearances to boost your profile (or your business’s profile), no-one wants to know that, so leave your ego at the door! In fact, at some media outlets (like the ABC), you won’t even have your business mentioned, but don’t worry; it doesn’t matter. The best possible way you can promote yourself is by being interesting, engaging, likeable and maybe a little humble.
The next time—or the first time—a radio producer comes knocking on your door, you’ll know just what to expect and exactly how to impress their (microphone) socks off! Ah, that’s a hilarious radio joke, in case you missed it.