After I started writing this book, I offered one-on-one coaching sessions with new interviewers to ensure I was addressing their real needs. Over and over, I saw that one of their biggest challenges was curbing excessive promotion. In the “What’s a Win for You?” section, I addressed how to show a guest you understand their need for promotion. But when is the right time to finally help them promote?
In most cases, the answer is when you’re interested in what they’re promoting and when you think your audience would be curious about it. So if you’re interviewing an author of a new book you enjoy, absolutely start by asking about it.
But if the promotion has nothing to do with why you’re talking to them, wait until the end, when you and your audience are emotionally connected to the guest. That’s how it’s been done on television for years. When I was a kid, if Robert De Niro was doing a late-night interview, it wasn’t because he enjoyed wincing through questions about his childhood. He had a new movie to promote. The deal was he’d give the interviewer a little peek into his life so fans like me could get to know one of our favorite actors. In return, the host’s job was to help De Niro promote his latest movie.
I found that it’s best to clarify the agenda with guests before we start recording by using a promotion stopper. I get their buy-in by phrasing it as a question, like, “Of course I’ll mention your new project in my intro, but since my audience isn’t emotionally connected to it yet, do you mind if we build your credibility first by talking about the big company you sold?”
They almost always agree. Occasionally someone will push back and say what they did before is boring and they want to talk about what they plan to do. When that happens, I remind them that my site’s mission is to talk about how big achievers built their companies. The audience would feel cheated if I promised that and gave them something else.
If they still insist on promoting their new thing, I’m comfortable forfeiting the interview, but it’s never come to that. People understand. Each show has its own approach, and if they want to be on, they need to work with it. No guest would go on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and complain that Trevor Noah cracked too many jokes.
Sometimes, a guest might get excited about their new project and start talking about it in the middle of me asking questions about their previous startup. I quickly say, “We’ll get to that, but first let’s finish talking about how you got here.”
When guests see me keep control of the conversation and promise to meet their needs, they share more and promote less. It’s a win-win.