Taking A Byte Out Of The Media
Monday, November 20, 2006

GM: Well, I canít tell you how many times Iíve actually sat down with someone to do an interview so that I could tell their story and I became immediately aware that the person that I was talking to was completely in the dark, without a net. Had absolutely no idea (A) What they were supposed to do; (B) What I wanted from them; and (C) what the entire process was about. And the kind of person I am, it made me sad, because I realized, "What am I supposed to do? Tell their story and mine? Do their job and mine?" Itís not going to happen and what probably will happen is their story is never going to get out there.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL Through radio, television, print and the Internet, most people are exposed to well over a million interviews by the time they hit adulthood. How can people still be so unsavvy about the process?

GM: Well, as you know, try and tell a big name star that theyíre boring. And where do you go to learn this? Who teaches it to you? A publicist? Not appropriate. And we know that there are teams and agencies that give "media training." I donít give media training. I give interview tactics. The deal is that those kinds of trainings are valuable in the sense that theyíre usually about the camera. They tell you where to look. They tell you where to stand. They tell you where to put your hands. And thatís really valuable. But none of those people have ever had to file. Thatís the key.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL When in their career do most people need this information?

GM: The name of the book is called "Interview Tactics: How To Survive The Media Without Getting Clobbered." And as I reached the end of the book, I realized that itís much bigger than the media. Itís really about anybody that has a message that they want to put out there, whether itís a person sitting next to you on the plane, or you want to sell your car, or whatever, where you have to step up, say what you have to say, tweak your listenersí interest and wrap it up in 30 seconds or less. In other words, give the person youíre talking to a place to go next. I use a lot of sports metaphors in this book, because itís really teamwork. You canít go onto the football field or the baseball field and not know the rules of the other team. You work in tandem with each other. Sometimes you work against each other. If youíre being interviewed and you donít want to tell me something, youíre not going to tell it to me. But youíre going to do it in a way that will make it interesting and youíre not going to go storming out.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL You devote a whole section of the book to sound bytes. Tell me why thatís particularly important.

GM: Because as I say in the book, sound bytes are the media morsels that the media survives on. And with the consolidation of media that we have now, especially with the dissemination of news -- I mean, thatís my background and Iíve seen newsrooms fall, one right after another. Weíre looking at the merger of CNN and ABC News. Thatís strange bedfellows. In 1969, the average presidential sound byte was 48 seconds. And in 2002, itís seven seconds. Where are you going to fit in there? How are you going to get your message out? When half the time, they cut to a story with George Bush and itís done in voice-over? So sound bytes are important because what that does is because there are becoming less and less good journalists and weíre getting stretched out, and the demands become greater and greater to fill those slots with contents, it enables us to plug in a lot of stories. It used to be when you did an interview, you would go to their house in Malibu or go to the studio, spend an hour minimum, and get a sense of the person, and have the time and the physical space on a page to be able to convey that feeling. When I left ABC News, my average report was 38 seconds, include a lock-out. And I had to have two pieces of sound bytes in that 38 seconds.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL How can someone prepare for an interview without actually being interviewed?

GM: Well, the single most important thing, and I say this in the book, is youíve got to tell it to sell it. If you canít tell your own stories, who can? What is your story?

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL So, develop some catch phrases?

GM: Well, thereís a four-part workbook in the book that really breaks it down. Itís like pages and pages of writing. What is my story? What is it that Iíve done that is so interesting? Why would people want to hear this? And itís a process. It could take months. And itís ongoing. And it really teaches you to look at your journey and look at what it is your actual story is. And then you take all of of that stuff and you highlight it to get bits and pieces of story. And now you have something to work with. Because if you just invented the worldís fastest car, letís say, and you do ten interviews, nine interviews may not ask you why you did it. But on the almighty tenth one for "Car and Track" magazine, that may be all they want to talk about. So itís really important to have various aspects of your story, but also various versions of your story.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL How can you tell if youíve done a good job after being interviewed? Besides seeing the results and being pleased with them?

GM: Thatís number one. And number two is if the person thatís interviewing you tells you you did good. You did good. But, see, that isnít even it, because we, as journalists, lie, too. "Oh, thatís great. That was really good. I loved the movie/album." So you know youíve done a good job if youíve gone over your talking points. If you have at least one sound byte in your arsenal. If you have conveyed your message in a media-friendly way, which is what I teach people in the book. Then, basically, youíve done your job. Because the reality is youíll talk to someone for 15 minutes and they may only use one sound byte or two.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL Weíve all dealt with an interview where you think youíre getting a lot and then you go back and listen to the tape and you realize that nothing has been said. Can you concoct an interview in that style? Can you create a sense of intimacy but say nothing?

GM: I tell people, if you donít want to be there, donít waste everybodyís time. If you donít want to talk about it, if you just want to play defensively, if you just want to talk about what you want to talk about....thereís a lot of reporters that are very testy and cross bounds. And I talk about how to deal with that as well. But be prepared for everything and know what your personal boundaries are.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL Who do you think does a good job that youíve interviewed?

GM: I think Kelsey Grammarís wonderful. I think Slash is great. I just did Meryl Streep this weekend and she was just fantastic. What a gal!

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL What makes them fantastic?

GM: They take you to that place. I said that I use a lot of sports metaphors, well, the fact is, that anybody that has created something and wants to get it out there in a media-friendly way went into a place in their head when they created it. And thatís called The Zone. Athletes talk about that a lot. As someone is doing an interview, I want to go on a journey, too. I want to know what makes you tick. I want you to take me to that place, because what my job is, first and foremost, is to stay employed. Secondly is to tell some compelling stories. And to take whoever is going to see it and read it on a journey and take them to that place. Obviously, there are different ways of doing that. And I would train a corporate person a lot differently than I would train a singer/songwriter. But at the end of the day, things like knowing sound bytes and knowing to make eye contact and what your body language is saying about you, thatís pretty much all the same.

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL Who was your worst interview?

GM: There are people that are really not prepared. And I donít know how the studios even let them out. Because in some cases, theyíre quite mean. But the fact is who is going to tell someone making $20 million a movie that they need some kind of interview tactics? "What do you mean? Iím boring? Youíre fired!"

NEWYORBOOKFESTIVAL Whereís the best place to buy the book?

GM: The book is available online at www.interviewtactics.com. The book is $29.95 plus $5 shipping.