Seven Tips For Giving a Better Phone Interview

Most of our trainees don’t know how to use a phone.

Sure, they talk by phone with their family, friends, and business contacts every day. But the telephone habits they use during those calls are radically different from the ones they need for interviews conducted by phone, or “phoners.”

So forget everything you (think) you know, and remember these seven tips the next time you have a phoner:

  1. Get Out of Your Office: Don’t sit at your desk, where you can be easily distracted by incoming emails, phone calls, and office visitors. Find an empty conference room with no distractions, and tape a “Do Not Disturb – Interview in Progress” sign on the doors.
  2. Bring Your Notes: It’s okay to have notes in front of you during phone interviews. Be careful not to “read” them; use them merely as memory triggers.
  3. Get a Headset: Telephone headsets are terrific gadgets for phone interviews. They allow you to use both of your hands to gesture – which adds emphasis to your voice – and free you to shuffle your note cards or scribble a quick note.
  4. Stand: When our trainees stand, they literally “think faster on their feet.” They also tend to project more authority, likely because pacing helps them use their nervous energy in a more productive manner.
  5. Smile: Smile when appropriate. The reporter (and audience, for radio interviews) can hear your warmth radiating through the phone.
  6. Use a Landline: Speaker phones have inferior audio quality and can be a barrier to easy communication. Plus, reporters may think, “He’s too important to pick up the damn phone?” Same goes for cell phones – use them only when necessary.
  7. Click, Clack, Repeat: Listen for the sound of typing on the other end – you may hear it when you say something that intrigues the reporter. That’s your cue to slow down and repeat what you’ve just said a second time, to help make sure the reporter has time to capture every word.

CASE STUDY: Toronto Mayor’s Disastrous Phone Interview

In 2010, Toronto Mayor-Elect Rob Ford agreed to an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s national radio program, As It Happens.

But when the reporter called at the scheduled time, Mr. Ford was busy coaching a youth football game. He proceeded with the interview anyway.

Unsurprisingly, he was unfocused, simultaneously yelling at children and telling the reporter about fiscal restraint. He interrupted the interview numerous times and made his points inarticulately, until finally admitting he was “being distracted.” (2020 update: Video is no longer available.)

The interview ran unedited, creating an embarrassing – and self-inflicted – public relations disaster for the incoming mayor.

Do you find these types of tips helpful? Then don’t leave quite yet! Scroll up to the upper right of the blog and add your name to our email list for monthly tips to make you a better public speaker and media spokesperson. You’ll get the tips before they appear on this blog. Thank you!

Related: Eight Ground Rules When Working With Reporters