How do I learn to speak well in radio interviews?
February 1, 2007 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm generally a fairly confident guy. I write well. I can carry on an intelligent conversation. I'm a salesman by training. I acted on stage in high school. In college I could deliver (and enjoy) speeches of all sorts. I can even hold my own when interviewed for the newspaper or for a podcast. But when it comes to speaking on live radio, I'm a nervous wreck. What can I do to improve?

I'm shaking all over. I was just interviewed by a Seattle radio station, and my mind froze. I couldn't remember even simple concepts. I was stumbling all over myself. I had stage fright. It was an embarrasment.

This has happened to me twice before, though many years ago. Each time it's the same thing: I freeze under the pressure of a live interview. Is there any way to cope with this? Or should I simply recognize this as a weakness and avoid radio interviews? (And are television interviews any different?)

I'd be all depressed about how poorly I just came off if I didn't find it so amusing in a sad and pathetic sort of way!
posted by jdroth to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Do you rehearse prior to radio interviews? Meaning, do you consider the possible questions that you will be asked (generally easy to predict), and prepare, in your head or on paper, points you want to hit and responses you want to give? I find that if I am mentally unprepared to be interviewed (I'm not just talking radio here, any sort of interview, including job), I am far more likely to become flustered and stumble than if I've given some thought to potential scenarios and questions. Even when I think I know the subject matter cold, I'll sound like a fool if I haven't mentally rehearsed.
posted by amro at 11:52 AM on February 1, 2007

I'm pretty much the opposite of you. I am uncomfortable in casual conversation, but never had a problem with nerves when I was a dj or news announcer on radio, a weatherman or announcer on television.

Basically, I convinced myself that I was all alone in a room, save for something that happened to be a microphone/camera.

You could probably do the same. The best way to be comfortable in the interview is, if you have a chance, talk to the interviewer before the interview, preferably in the studio while commercials/psas air right before the interview. Segue directly from the light conversation to the interview.

Just pretend you're talking to some guy/gal on a one-to-one basis, and it just happens to be taking place in a studio.

Depending on how patient your friends/loved ones are, you could even practice or role play ahead of time.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 11:54 AM on February 1, 2007

This happens to me sometimes. If I'm in what I consider a stressful situation, I may completely lose my train of thought and instead of focusing on getting back on track my mind can only focus on the fact that I don't know what to say next. I find the only thing that works for me is to stop, take a breath and clear my head for a sec. Then start speaking again slowly and move on. Don't dwell on losing your stride. Just move on.

Don't avoid radio interviews. All you need it one or two good ones and you'll be as confident in this area as you are in others.
posted by gfrobe at 11:56 AM on February 1, 2007

Response by poster: Do you rehearse prior to radio interviews?

In the past, no (despite days of warning).

Today I only had an hour's notice, so I did some quick research to get my facts straight. And I refreshed my memory on essential concepts (the interview was about topics I know well -- in theory). I even jotted some notes to have on hand. It didn't matter. It was all fight or flight when the moment came! Fortunately the host recognized the problem and gave me a graceful exit. In e-mail she said not to worry, that it happens all the time.

But I'd like to be able to come off well in future interviews, not as some addled fool.
posted by jdroth at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2007

It's a really weird phenomenon this. The first time I was on radio, I thought it was going out live. When the dj asked me a question, I stammered and gasped and made a tit of myself.

He said, "let's do that again," and I realised it was taped and *completely* relaxed. After that I was fine.

I've never faced live radio again, so I don't know if it'd happen again. I expect it probably would, actually. Odd.
posted by bonaldi at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2007

Are you in-studio or on the phone?

TV is worse for me, but radio I've only done via phone, a bunch of times. That is so easy for me. You're just talking, about a subject you know well, you can have notes in front of you or an Internet browser up to refresh your memory, the DJ is usually friendly and easy to talk to. Love radio. They also generally have more time to let you talk, whereas on TV two minutes is practically generous.

I don't know if this helps, but for me, it's just like chatting with a friend. Do you focus too much on how many people could be listening? For me I'm able to forget that it's going out live, and just pretend I'm chatting with one person, trying to entertain them.
posted by GaelFC at 12:07 PM on February 1, 2007

I've done a lot of radio interviews (usually with a lot of advance notice). To cure nerves, write out a complete, word-for-word answer to the question(s) that you think you will be asked. Notes are not enough if you're that nervous.

If they ask you something you're not expecting, and you freeze, just say, "Well, the really interesting thing is..." or "Well, most people aren't aware that..." or however you want to segue, and then start reading your prepared statement. Having something that you can just read (and not even think about) will help you relax.
posted by tk at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2007

Response by poster: tk, I love your suggestion. I used this technique actually for a podcast interview, and it made the first two questions go smoothly so that the rest was relaxed. I worry that people will be able to tell I'm reading verbatim answers. But when I think about it, that's a lot better than the crash-and-burn I did this morning. I'll have to remember to do that next time.
posted by jdroth at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2007

Definitely I think this is something where practicing could come in handy. I've never actually been interviewed in a live setting, but I know what it's like to suddenly not know what to say in front of a microphone. It seemed to help to sit at home and record fake speeches and interviews with myself. If you can get to a point where you're comfortable and able to blather on without hesitation on a home recording, then you'll probably do better in the live setting.

Also, tk's idea is good for the deer in the headlights situation; then you'd have something to fall back on.
posted by knave at 1:01 PM on February 1, 2007

By the way, I would definitely subscribe to a Get Rich Slowly podcast. :)
posted by knave at 1:08 PM on February 1, 2007

GaelFC had the answer. The key to sounding good on the radio is to speak to an individual, not an amorphous "audience". Pick someone out from your life and answer the questions as if you are speaking directly to that person. Pick someone you respect, and it will keep you from acting stupid.

This applies to regular radio announcers, too. Most radio audiences are very small, intimate affairs. So the idea of speaking to an individual works very well from the perspective of your audience.

Once you've got that down, you can move to the next level. Imagine you're speaking to an attractive couple having fantastic sex as they listen to your radio program. This will keep you from being presumptuous and getting too inside their heads. It will keep you humble and unobnoxious.

If enough radio announcers would start using this system, I'd be able to leave the radio on more when I'm having sex, without being annoyed by their inane chatter.

The third and final level is contempt. If you can simultaneously do the first two items, while holding your audience in quiet contempt, you will sound really good on the radio. I don't know why this works, but it does. Just be cool about it, and don't let them know you think their are small and insignificant. This only works if you have the first two systems running simultaneously.
posted by Area Control at 1:49 PM on February 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

host a show once a week at your local Public access station.
posted by magikker at 2:01 PM on February 1, 2007

Imagine you're speaking to an attractive couple having fantastic sex as they listen to your radio program.
while holding your audience in quiet contempt

Wouldn't that tend to suggest you should imagine an unattractive couple having mediocre sex?
posted by staggernation at 2:45 PM on February 1, 2007

I'm terribly nervous when I speak in public, but host a weekly podcast and do voice over and radio interviews on other programs.

I do still get nervous when I'm going to be interviewed on another person's show. (I'd rather be the one asking the questions.) For these interviews, I second tk's advice. Write as much down as you want to/can before you get behind the mic. No one out there knows you're reading (as long as you don't, you know, "read" it) and it really helps to keep your mind from flying off into panicsville.

Oh, also a teensy amount of Xanax works for me as well, if it's a particularly stressful show. Purely medicinal. ;)
posted by Kloryne at 3:44 PM on February 1, 2007

Response by poster: also a teensy amount of Xanax works for me as well

Ha! About five minutes before I was scheduled to go on I thought to myself, "Damn. I know it's only 11am, but I sure could have used some Scotch." What I meant was that alcohol might have helped take the edge off my nerves. (This is not something I normally even consider. That's why it sticks out so much in my mind.)
posted by jdroth at 3:50 PM on February 1, 2007

Go with the Xanax, no one can smell it!

(My fear of public speaking led me to do a couple shots of vodka before an oral report in college -- at 8am. Hey professor! *hic*)
posted by Kloryne at 4:04 PM on February 1, 2007

Don't, and by this I mean do not, have even one drink before speaking into a mic. It has the exact opposite effect on your diction to the one you'd need.

I do a lot of radio (as the presenter), and in a past life I once did quite a lot of interviewee-ing. If you have the option, go to the studio - a decent presenter will look right at you during and put you at ease before.

Mostly, decide what you want to say before you get there, and get someone to ask you a couple of annoying questions so you know how you'd reply. Probably you won't get those sort of questions and that breeds its own confidence on the day.


If the format's rigged against you, don't go. In a 'debate' with another guest, don't be the one on the phone. In a debate with the host, don't be the guest (unless you know they're fair as well as in opposition) - he's got the fader under his finger. It is possible to pull a David but unless you're extremely good, Goliath's gonna kick your arse.
posted by genghis at 5:44 PM on February 1, 2007

I've been on the DJ side of the mic hundreds of times, and the interviewee side of the mic dozens of times.

JeremiahBritt has it above.

Talk with the DJ during the songs/news/commercials/whatever before hand, and when you go "on the air" it is still just you and that one person talking.

Broadcasting booths are usually small, and you may be no more than a couple of feet from your interviewer. Speak in a normal tone of voice, normal volume, normal pacing, the DJ will attenuate your mic as needed. Practically all radio presenters speak in an accelerated and somewhat forced/theatrical style of voice. There is no reason for you to try to do this. You are an invited guest, not the traffic girl trying to squeeze in the wreck on I-19 and get in a mention for Quizno's during a 15 second drop. Speak naturally.

Look the DJ in the face as you would any individual you are personally speaking to. They may have to look away for a moment to tend to something, but that is no different than if you were speaking to someone one-on-one and they took some notes.

The person on the air with you will prevent anything catastrophic from happening. They have had much, much worse go wrong live than someone getting a little stumbly on an interview. Don't worry about anything. Just talk, that's all.

Remember, it's just you and the DJ. Don't panic. A radio interview really is just a one-on-one conversation in a very public hallway.

If it is via telephone, then hell, what's the problem? It really *IS* just a one-on-one... you don't even have the setting of the studio to mess with you.

For many people, it is not the abstract notion of the throngs listening... it is actually the visual and physical imposition of a studio microphone that makes them loose it.

Also, for some people, putting on headsets makes them very nervous. Some also react violently against "hearing" themselves on their headsets. Unless you are having to speak over an audio track, or you are physically separated by a wall or partition from your interviewer, there's really no need for an interviewee to have a set of cans.

And again, if you feel trouble, rely on the DJ. True story: I was interviewing a lady who as soon as the red light came on she literally froze, was unable to say much of anything. I said "Well, it looks like I forgot to plug her microphone in. We'll take a quick break and when we come back you'll actually be able to hear her". Commercial. She breathes deep, and actually laughs a little. Takes the pressure off her, breaks the tension. Second try she does fine.

As a last resort, during the interview setup, ask if it is to be, or can be, prerecorded. That is becoming more common at most stations, not less common.

At the station I worked for, we went from live call-ins to recording everything because a recurring "character" (outside person) we called every week for a year decided to one morning say "nigger" live on the air.

God I miss radio. I'd never do anything else again if I could pay the bills. Literally the most enjoyable job I've ever had, by a longshot.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:11 PM on February 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

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