How to Get Your Interviewer Back on Track

I’ve done quite a few interviews over the past few years, and most of them are really great. As an introvert myself, I’m amazed at people’s abilities to chat away in a carefree manner, to interrupt people (when they need it), and to basically think aloud. During a radio or TV interview, those are important skillsets (which I definitely don’t have.) But there have also been interviewers that have veered off-track during the course of our time together. So then what? Do you as the interviewee interrupt them? What do you do to get things back on track?

Why Things Veer Off Course

Some people are chatty by nature, and this means they happily chirp out their thoughts without much regard to whether or not what they’re saying is related to their show. This isn’t a bad thing, because sometimes you can get spontaneous moments that leave an impact. As an interviewee, though, you can’t afford to have your host chat happily away from your topic.

Other times a host may veer from the pre-determined topic based on something that happened in the news recently. That happened to me with a radio show I did last year. It was a live show for the top-rated morning show in Atlanta. The producer asked me to prepare three points (related to the topic of online dating) to talk about, and when I came on to do the interview, the host completely changed the topic based on something she heard on the news that morning.

Don’t Panic!

In the example with the Atlanta radio show, I didn’t panic. Whenever I do radio or TV, I tell myself to go with the flow no matter what happens. That sometimes means I’m not “on” with promoting my book, but willing to chat about other things if they come up. The reason I’m open to this (and I do really have to psyche myself up about this ahead of time) is that I believe when you make an appearance of any kind, you are selling yourself, your brand, and your book, just by showing your personality. If you show that you’re knowledgeable but also willing to loosen up and have fun, you’ll leave much more of an impression, and chances are people will look you up. At the very least, they will remember you the next time another piece of your overall marketing puzzle shows up (like a Tweet or blog post).

In the case of this Atlanta radio show, I chatted about the topic she wanted to talk about, and then related it to my own topic. I answered her questions, and then said:

“I’m happy you brought this up. I think it relates to the dating world very well because…”

and then brought it back to my topic. In the end, we managed to hit some topics related to dating, but not the ones the producer asked me to prepare. (Yet another reason you need to be an expert in your topic if you go on radio or TV.)

Avoid Saying “In My Book”

You might be tempted to try and get things back on topic by talking about the real reason you’re doing the interview: your book. (Or blog, or whatever else you’re trying to promote.) Be very cautious about this, because if you bring up your book too much, you’ll turn people off and they won’t listen to you anymore.

Instead, avoid saying “in my book” at all, and instead say “I always tell people,” or “I would advise people to” and then talk about points relevant to why you’re there.

This might sound confusing, so let me give you an example. In one TV interview I did on the subject of Internet dating, the interviewer chatted with me before air time. She asked me the one thing that everyone who has never dated online seems to ask, which was “Do people lie online?” I said no, for the most part I thought people were who they said they were.

When the cameras came back on and we went live, however, she said (right into the camera) “We’re talking here about why people lie.” Then she turned to me, “Why are so many people dishonest in the world? They cheat on their taxes, they lie to their husbands… why do you think this happens?”


I was a newbie at interviewing back then and probably looked like I was caught in the headlights. Why did this happen? I assumed it was because the interviewer had a lot going on and couldn’t remember what we were there to discuss. (Or, she was just a moron.) Either way, I wasn’t going to miss out on TV time when it came to discussing my topic.

If I wanted to be obnoxious (which I’ll admit was very tempting considering how the rest of the interview went) I would have said, “Well in my book I talk about that. In my book, which is why I’m here, I mention that it’s an urban legend how much people lie on their profiles. In my book, which you should read because you obviously know nothing about this subject…”

But I didn’t do that. Luckily, I recovered, and said:

“I don’t know why some people lie, but in the online dating world, which I do know a lot about, I’d disagree that people are dishonest.”

Suggest a Question

Another tactic to use if the interviewer gets totally off-track is to suggest a question related to your topic. This happened to me once when someone was interviewing me about my diabetes book for a radio show, and asked me about being a Green Bay Packer fan. I happily answered questions about it (because I certainly don’t hide the fact that I love football), but then the interviewer went off on every trade and bad call he’d witnessed in the last ten years.

It got worse. He then started talking about salary caps in the game, and that led to lost draft opportunities, and before I knew it the talk was totally about football and not about diabetes.

When he finally took a breath, I just pretended that we had been talking about my topic all along. I said, “Oh, it’s true, so many frustrating things when you’re a fan that you have no control over. When you’re a diabetic, there are also things you can’t control. One question diabetics typically ask me is…” and then brought it back to the subject I was there to discuss.

I paused to see if he would pick up on the hint, and he did. (Hey, interviewers are human, and if they go off on an unrelated rant, forgive them! But do bring it back to your topic.)

Don’t Get Ticked

I’ve had quite a few interviews where the person seemed to interview themselves more than they did me. I usually find this hysterical, which is good because a happy interviewee comes off better than a ticked off one. You might have flown or driven to the TV station, carved out time in your precious schedule, and even created special questions or topics to chat about (all of which will be a “waste” when your interviewer gets off track), but don’t sweat it. If you get pissed, your anger will come through and not your message.

Instead, laugh it off. Pretend that you’re having a great time anyways and eventually you will. Don’t look at it as a lost opportunity, because I promise you that good things build slowly from the interviews you do, no matter how much you get to talk about your book. They do make an impact, even if you don’t realize it at the time.

Remember that Atlanta station I mentioned? I kept my cool even though the topic got twisted on me, and after the interview another station (who had listened to it) called me up to be on their station. I got a second interview that was much more on point, just because I was able to roll with things with the first one. Things like that happen all the time. Look at the interviews you do as building blocks. Some of them will get you immediately book sales, while others will just be a piece you use to secure your brand. Either way, you can’t lose.

Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

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