10 Rules for a Successful Interview

Posted on by Larry

If I hear the phrase: “We provide best-in-class, customer-facing solutions in the media and entertainment space,” one more time, I’m gonna poke someone with a fork! (See the Glossary at the bottom for a translation of this sentence.)

As host of the Digital Production Buzz for the last five years, I’ve interviewed more than 600 industry executives. I write this Thursday night from my hotel room in Las Vegas. The NAB trade show just ended and during the last four days, I interviewed more than 100 industry executives for The Buzz for our NABShowBuzz.com special coverage.

Some guests could not complete a clear English sentence, and others were sweating so much from sheer terror that I felt sorry just asking them their name. If you, or someone you know, works in a position where they are likely to be interviewed, this blog is for you.


An interview is not “60 Minutes.” It is not an inquisition. I am not going to ask if you have absconded with company funds, lied on your tax returns, or if you are shacking up with the vice president’s wife.

An interview is a chance for you to explain to the world at large what’s great about your company’s products. And answer questions that a typical user might have. In other words, you already know everything you need to know for the interview. So here are ten simple rules you need to keep in mind to make a success of any interview.


1. Who Are You. Be able to explain what your company does in a single, succinct paragraph. You get BONUS points if you can avoid using words like: “solutions,” any acronym with more than three letters, or hyphenated-techno-speak. If you can’t explain it in English, no one listening will understand you.

2. Why You. Be able to explain why your product is better. Your potential customers are comparing you to your competition, give them some reasons to consider you.

3. Explain Yourself. Interviews are conversations, don’t give yes or no answers. I had one guest today that answered “yes” or “no” to every question I asked, regardless of how I phrased my questions. I guarantee I won’t be inviting that company back on the show.

4. Have a Story. Come prepared to explain how your product works in the real-world. Nothing makes a product more approachable than an example of how it is successfully used. I had a great interview with a CEO of a lens company. We started talking about how lenses were made and he told a fascinating story of how different varieties of glass can influence how a lens handles light. Very cool. I moved him into a more prominent position in the show based on that one story.

5. Relax. Interviews are not life-threatening. No one, I repeat, NO ONE has died during an interview. Go with the flow. If the host is serious, be serious. If the host is cheerful, be cheerful. Enthusiasm is the single best characteristic to bring to an interview. If you can’t get excited about your product, no one else will either. Let your personality out a bit – feel free to be excited.

6. Don’t Upstage the Host. For me, my guests are the stars. But not all hosts are like that. Take time to figure out what the host wants: stories, high-level strategic positioning, nuts-and-bolts tech, etc. Your goal is to get invited back – more visibility is a good thing – not to prove that you are funnier/smarter/weirder than the host.

7. Know Your Product. I had four different guests during NAB that had only been with their company for a month or so. They didn’t know their prices. They didn’t know their features. They didn’t know how their product worked. And they won’t be invited back. Bring notes, but don’t read from them. This is a conversation, not a lecture.

People that listen to technology programs are after solid, reliable, practical information they can use to make purchasing decisions. Talking strategy is fine – but be ready to roll-up your sleeves and explain the best way to use your gear, tricks to make it run faster, and optimal systems to make it run great.

8. Talk to Your Audience. In fact, just speak English. You don’t need to dumb it down, but if you can’t explain it without using a sentence containing more than two acronyms, then practice explaining it until you can.

9. Don’t Sneak in a Commercial. Any competent host will give you time to promote your website at the end of the segment. Don’t keep trying to weasel in a commercial in the middle. It breaks the flow and sounds unnecessarily self-promoting. Also, figure out the ONE BEST place to send people. Don’t do a litany of website – Twitter – Facebook – Linked-In – Email address – post office box – phone number – booth number – and physical address. You’ll only get edited or, worse, not invited back. Drive people to your website. Keep it simple.

10. Focus on Your Message. The host has a goal: create an engaging interview filled with interesting information. You need a goal, too. And it ISN’T “buy my products.” No one buys a product based on an interview. Instead your interview goal needs to be “make my products so interesting and compelling that people have to check out my website to learn more.”

Give me and my audience an interesting, compelling interview, filled with intriguing facts and presented by someone that is enthusiastic and I guarantee they will beat a path to your website to learn more.

Let me know what you think. (Also, read the blog sent in by Michael Cox on how to be a great interviewer.)



Ever wonder what the words mean? Here’s the code:

5 Responses to 10 Rules for a Successful Interview

  1. Russtafa says:

    Some great interviews from NAB.
    Thanks for keeping us up to date here in London.
    Super production, and congratulations to all the hard work by the nabshowbuzz production team.

  2. Caesar Darias says:

    Larry I listened to most of the NAB interviews and I could hear the frustration in your voice. It’s almost as if you were saying, “I’m throwing you a hanging curve, dude. Hit it out of the park.” In many cases it was a swing and a miss.

    I noticed you frequently took the initiative and provided details. For example, in one interview the person was talking about overcranking for slow-mo. You stepped in and explained why it’s better to do it in-camera.

    Not everybody is an engineer/tech expert who knows all the esoteric inside-baseball words. Some people may be more experienced as producers and writers. I always appreciate when you explain why something is done and provide examples of how a product is used during a production.

    Moreover, every shop is different. I’ve worked in four TV newsrooms. They’re all different. Almost every station has it’s own language. It’s nice when someone like you does not assume that everybody knows what you mean.

    In other words, you understand communication.

  3. Great post! Many of these rules apply equally to booth personnel dealing with NAB attendees, they are giving “interviews” dozens of times per day.

    “We are customer-facing,” — Translation — We are not willing to give up margin to a sales channel or manufacturers reps, so you’ll be buying from us directly – no discounts!

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