How To Prepare Questions For Your Own Media Interview
A reader recently wrote in and asked:
“I am slotted to go on a local television show, and the interviewer asked me to provide a list of questions for her to ask me. Any suggestions for questions, or tips?”
It’s common for time-pressed television or radio hosts to ask guests for a list of questions in advance. That’s not a guarantee that they’ll stick to your questions (so you should still take media training seriously), but it’s a wonderful opportunity to shape the interview — and its outcome.
What do you want from this interview?
Because it’s impossible to be comprehensive during a quick media interview, the best approach is to be so compelling as to inspire the listener or viewer to take a second step with you. Therefore, the first question to ask yourself is this: What result do I want from this interview? Here’s another: “Do I want people to buy my book, email their local politicians, or donate to my cause?” The messages you draft for yourself — and the questions you write for the host — should all lead to that result. And the best way to do that is to focus on communicating the most surprising, fascinating, and interesting parts of your work.
This post is intended to offer you ideas. You might opt to create a couple of questions from each of the five categories below to ensure a fast-moving and engaging interview. Some of the categories might even seem to be in conflict with one another, but that’s by design — the goal is to blend several question types together to create a broad diversity of questions.
1. Lead With The Why + What
Most interviews begin with foundational “big picture” questions along these lines:
- “Can you tell me about your book?”
- “Can you explain what your organization does?”
- “What is your campaign trying to achieve?”
- “Why is this important?”
- “Can you put into perspective how big of a problem this is?”
- It’s fine to begin with a few questions along those lines, but it’s how you answer them that makes the difference.
Most people are conditioned, from the earliest moments they learn how to communicate, to answer a “what” question with a “what” response. That makes sense in most forms of communication — it’s logical to answer the question, “What’s the weather like today?” with “It’s 78 degrees and sunny.”
But “what” responses aren’t particularly compelling. As I wrote in an earlier post, you should use the “Why + What” format to answer these types of foundational questions instead.
2. Create Anticipation
Some questions are so intriguing by their very nature that you can almost see audience members leaning into their car stereos or home television sets when they’re asked. As an example, let’s say you’re a researcher concerned about the consequences for women who are too focused on their body weight.
Your message: “Far too many American women are making themselves sick by being too weight-conscious.”
Supporting statistic: “Research from Arizona State University found that one in seven women would prefer blindness to obesity.”
Most of the interview Q&A documents I’ve seen would pose a question on that topic along these lines:
Average question: “You say that many Americans are making themselves unhealthy by being too weight-conscious. Can you talk about that?”
Average question: “Can you talk about the research from Arizona State University that found that many women would prefer blindness to obesity?”
Neither of those questions would likely make the audience “lean in” to learn more. Here are two better alternatives:
Good question: “You’ve said that while researching your book, you came across a statistic that stopped you dead in your tracks. What was that?”
Good question: “Most physicians tell their overweight patients to lose weight. But you say that advice — well intentioned as it may be — can sometimes lead to some very negative consequences. How so?”
3. Explore Extremes and The Unexpected
Humans are primed to notice things that are different, surprising, and extreme. You can take advantage of that by asking a few questions like these:
- “Did you have any ‘a-ha!’ moments that made you rethink your approach?”
- “What surprised you the most when putting this campaign together?”
- “What do you know now that you didn’t know three years ago?”
- “What was the most discouraging moment you experienced while putting this project together?”
- “What was the biggest obstacle you faced, and how did you overcome it?”
- “When you finished your book, how hard was it for you to put the characters away—or are they still living with you?”
- “How did this new creation enter your mind for the first time?”
4. Make It Personal
It’s often a good idea to insert a question or two that seeks to discuss your work through your own eyes. Here’s an example of an ordinary — and a better — way of framing a question:
Ordinary Question: “How did your foundation come about?”
Good Question: “Many other groups were already doing this kind of work before you came along. What made you think there was an opening for you?”
Ordinary Question: “What makes your brand special?”
Good Question: “When you walk into one of your stores, what do you see that others might miss?”
5. Balance Abstract and Concrete Questions
Good interviews — particularly to audiences with a range of knowledge about your topic — usually benefit from a combination of big picture (abstract) ideas and concrete examples.
Therefore, an abstract question such as “Why is your topic important?” should be paired with a follow-up question designed to get more specific. A few examples include:
- “Can you give me an example?”
- “Why does this matter to a listener in Topeka who wonders how this is relevant to her life?”
- “In practical terms, what does that mean for our listeners?”
- “How can someone get involved?”
You can also embed a bit more specificity into concrete questions:
- “Can you tell me about Brian, the unemployed 55-year-old man who you said completely changed your perspective?”
- “How are climate scientists in Alaska reacting to the latest data?”
- “One of the characters in your book had a rather profound mid-life crisis. How much of that was inspired from your own life?”
Hi. As a talk show host on Blog Talk radio, I truly enjoyed this article. I love to research my guests so I can present questions that will evoke deep emotion and encourage them to share their passion with the audience.
This article was wonderfully written. I will use it as a resource when I resume my show.
Thank you for sharing!
As a listener, I love hearing guests talk about their mistakes, or things they wish they had done differently, a variation on Tip #3 above. It makes them sound authentic. You could write questions like this:
“Tell us about the biggest mistake you made when starting your business and what you learned from it.”
“If you could start your business all over again, what would you have done differently?”
“What’s the one mistake listeners (or viewers) can keep from making if they follow your advice?”
Thanks for these tips, Brad. This article is the lead item in “The Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week” today.
Those are terrific additions to the list. You’re exactly right — listeners and viewers love hearing lessons learned, which help them avoid making the same mistakes (and also serves to make the interviewee more relatable).
Thanks for improving my post with your idea!
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