A Tip for Your Next Media Interview: Never Improvise an Answer

August 31, 2013

Don't speculate during interviews


“12 Minutes of Freedom in 460 Days of Captivity”

“Back at Afghan Valley, U.S. Soldiers Find Surprise: Peace”

“In California, Renewed Debate Over Home Care”

Those are three randomly selected headlines from The New York Times. Effective headlines capture the essence of a story; however, they also need to be compelling enough for you to read the article (i.e. click on the link). After all, if a headline gave away the set-up, the body and the punch line, we’d never have a need to read anything.


As a marketer, I deal with “headlines” all the time: article headlines, email subject lines, tweets, the title of the link shared on Facebook, the heading on a piece of product collateral, etc. I consume lots of headlines and write a number of them as well.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at both: being able to read a headline and quickly conclude what the article is about – and, writing effective headlines that incent people to click.

When interpreting headlines, context matters

Let’s take the headline, “Back at Afghan Valley, U.S. Soldiers Find Surprise: Peace.” This article was about the return of American soldiers to Pech Valley, a region in eastern Afghanistan nicknamed “the Valley of Death.” It was the first time American soldiers returned there since 2011.

I can peruse this headline and determine whether I’d like to read the article. When making this judgment, I can even make educated guesses about what’s in the article or what angles it will cover. This is all fine and good because it only affects me.

But what if I repeated the same process in front of a live audience? Let me explain.

The Betty White Twitter Story


Recently, I appeared on The Workforce Show (@workforceshow), a radio program that airs on WCEM 1240 AM in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. Host Cindy Gurne interviewed me on how to get started with Twitter.

In the first segment of the interview, Cindy asked me for my thoughts on the Betty White Twitter story. When the story broke (in 2012), I heard about it. But my exposure to the story was exclusively via headlines and tweets. I never read (or understood) the full details of the story.

Speculating during an interview

I misread the situation, thinking that Cindy was not familiar with the details of the Betty White Twitter story and was looking for me to fill in the blanks. So rather than confessing that I did not know the details, I speculated.

While I did state that I wasn’t entirely sure about it, I went on to give my interpretation of what the story was all about, based solely on headlines I had seen at the time. The speculation ended up being wrong.

It turns out Cindy did know the details, and saved my bacon by providing details to the audience after my unsuccessful speculation.

The tip: never speculate

When you speculate during an interview, there are far more negative outcomes than positive ones. Sure, you might get lucky and nail the answer. But more often than not, you’ll probably guess wrong and look a bit silly in front of the host and the assembled audience.

If I had to do it again, here’s how I would have answered:

Cindy: “Recently, Betty White created a stir when she joined Twitter. Tell us about that?”

Me: “I heard about that, Cindy, but I don’t have the details around it. Perhaps you can fill us in?”

From here, there would have been two possible outcomes:

  1. Cindy didn’t know the details, either, and simply moved on.
  2. Cindy fills her listeners in on the details and I “help” the situation by deferring the question to her.


Honesty is the best policy. Whether you’re in a media interview or a job interview, answering a question via speculation can get you in trouble, cause embarrassment and compromise your credibility. Saying “I don’t know” is not the end of the world.

How to Get Started With Twitter

Here is the presentation that I put together for the interview.

Virtual Events 101: Tips For Building Your Virtual Booth

April 13, 2010

Your company is exhibiting at a virtual event and you’ve been assigned the responsibility of building your company’s virtual booth.  You’ve had plenty of experience assembling a physical booth, but never before have you built one virtually.  What’s your first step?  To immediately resist the urge to start the virtual build.

Set/Confirm Objectives & Goals

The objectives and goals for your virtual booth should align with the goals for your company’s participation in the virtual event. If you do not set the direction yourself, be sure to round up the necessary decision makers and have a documented set of goals – publish them internally and be sure that all stakeholders have a copy.  Sample goals include:

  1. Obtain contact information from “X” number of prospects
  2. Generate “Y” number of meaningful prospect engagements in-booth
  3. Yield “Z” number of qualified sales opportunities
  4. Generate “X%” of brand uplift, as measured by “Y”

It’s absolutely critical that goal definition be your first step, as it drives the decisions you make regarding the build-out of your virtual booth.

Content is King

The main elements of a virtual booth are (1) content [e.g. images, signage, videos, documents, links, etc.] and (2) virtual booth staffers.  Your first job is “content curator” – review all content available and be selective about which content you’ll place in your booth.  It all goes back to the defined goals – the content you select should align with the goals.

So if your goal is demand generation, find the same White Papers that your marketing team is using to generate sales leads across the web.  If your goal is driving awareness around a product launch, grab that 2 minute video of your product manager and have it auto-play when visitors enter your booth.  Besides documents in your marketing library, be sure to cobble together useful links on your web site, along with third party articles, blog postings and product reviews that reinforce your objectives.

Booth Labels Are Like Headlines

Content in a booth is typically housed behind a set of “booth labels”.  Your next job is one of headline writer – you’ll want to craft captivating “headlines” for the booth label, along with attention-grabbing titles (and descriptions) for the underlying content items.  You’re like the home page editor for your favorite content site – you need to figure out how to write headlines (titles) that will grab your visitors’ attention.

While you certainly want to avoid the “bait and switch” (e.g. writing a label/title that intentionally deceives), your labels need not literally reflect the underlying content. For example, if you assemble a set of blog postings from your company’s blog, you need not label these “Blog Postings”. Instead, organize the blog postings into themes – a set of postings on best practices could simply be labeled “Best Practices” in your booth.

While I suggest you do not change booth labels while the event is live (that would significantly confuse your booth’s repeat visitors), you’ll want to review the activity reports from your booth to learn from the labeling decisions that you made.  You’ll begin to figure out what worked and what didn’t – and can use those learnings for your next event to more effectively use labels/headlines to achieve your goals.

Use A Call To Action – Not A Declaration

For signage within the virtual booth, I prefer to use a call to action (e.g. “Ask Us Why 2010 is The Year of The Hybrid” above) over a declaration. So instead of declaring, “The world’s leading producer of plastic widgets”, try a call to action, “Ask us why plastic widgets are the new metal widgets”.  The call to action initiates a conversation with your visitors, rather than telling them what they should know.  If visitors enter your booth’s group chat and proactively ask the question stated in your call to action, then give yourself a pat on the back.

Stand Out From The Crowd

You’ll likely have competitors exhibiting in their own virtual booths, which means that a key part of your job is to figure out how to separate your booth (and company) from the crowd.  Greenscreen video (aka an embedded video greeter) has been used at enough virtual booths that it won’t make your booth any different.

Instead, try an offbeat video that’s not yet made its way to YouTube.  Or, how about an avatar of your CEO whose mouth movements are synchronized to the words s/he is speaking.  Perhaps an animated avatar is the new greenscreen.  Thinking further outside the box, how about bringing one of your products to life – personalizing that product to the point where it speaks and delivers a message to visitors.  A good example (in general – not in a virtual event) is the DCX Man character created by Brocade:

Source: Brocade (dcxman.com)

Further information can be found here: http://www.dcxman.com/whois_dcxman.html

Optimize Your Content For Search

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not the sole domain of your web site or blog – it applies to virtual events as well.  How can this be?  Well, most virtual event platforms provide basic and advance search capabilities – they index all content in the event (e.g. documents, links, Webcasts, etc.) and some platforms even index the contents of uploaded documents.

As a result, keep SEO in mind for selecting documents to include in your booth, along with the labels, titles and abstracts that you use to catalog your booth content.  Taking a step back, be sure to write an SEO-optimized description for your company and booth – if attendees search for a key term and your booth is at the top of the search results, then all is good in the world.

Subject Matter Experts as Booth Staffers

While you’ll certainly want sales reps and sales engineers as booth staffers, it’s critical to work subject matter experts into the staffing schedule.  A visitor who asks specific product or service questions is a hot prospect – and telling that prospect “let me get back to you with an answer to your question” becomes a lost opportunity.  Even worse, that opportunity could fall into the lap of your competitor, whose booth is only one click away.

If you’re a technology vendor, try to have your product manager, chief engineer or event your CTO available within the booth.  While some technology folks may not be comfortable face-to-face with a customer, most feel quite at home in a text chat session.

Optimizing For: Demand Generation

If you’re looking to generate sales leads, cobble up all your best lead gen content – the latest White Papers, Case Studies, product sheets, videos, podcasts, customer testimonials, etc.  Be liberal and selective at the same time – that is, ensure there is a good mix of content choices, but be religious in making sure the content you select aligns with your goals – and relates to the theme of the virtual event.  The beauty of a virtual event is that registration occurs once – but all activity with your content is tracked.  So you’ll have rich activity profiles at your disposal to help you separate the cream of the crop leads from the visitors who came simply to enter your prize drawing.

Optimizing For: Thought Leadership

Are some of your co-workers experts or luminaries within your industry?  If yes, then have them be staffers within your booth!  Visitors will have a natural inclination to engage with them – and they’ll be able to funnel the ripest opportunities to sales reps within your booth.  If your employees have not achieved rock star status within your industry, leverage some of the luminaries to produce content on your behalf.

Perhaps it’s a research report authored by an industry expert – or, a video interview (hosted by the expert) with your CEO.  Better yet, a Webcast within the virtual event that features the expert(s) who provide a presentation prior to your own speakers.  If the experts are available to attend the virtual event, invite them to provide Q&A within your booth, as they’ll serve to draw interest and engagement from visitors.


While much of the logistics occur “online”, building a virtual booth will take longer than you think (if done right).  Be sure to clearly define your goals first – then, make sure your booth achieves those goals.  Take planned breaks from the virtual build to assess whether your booth aligns with the stated goals.  Finally, be sure to study activity data from the live event so you can make improvements for your next event!

Related Links

  1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
  2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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