Interviewed in Front of an Audience

A friend was scheduled to be interviewed in front of an audience of 600. She asked for tips on how best to manage that speaking situation. It is one thing to be interviewed behind closed doors for a job or to review work performance, but having a large live audience is another dynamic. Here are tips I suggested to her.

Only answer the question. Don’t wander into other topics.

Keep your answers concise—not too short or too long. (Under 30 seconds unless you have a story to tell within your answer.)

Don’t qualify your answers with “I think” or “I’m not sure, but…” If you’re saying it, they know you are thinking it. You don’t have to say the obvious.

If possible, obtain a copy of the questions in advance and practice with a friend. Don’t practice more than once or twice because you don’t want your answers to sound rehearsed. In The Camera Never Blinks, Dan Rather writes about President John Kennedy and his skill at press conferences. He said Kennedy’s success was largely due to his habit  of meeting with his key advisors on the day of the conference prior to the event. They peppered him with questions they thought he would be asked; he practiced answering so that he could give effective answers to the press with the television cameras rolling.

Unless it is information directed to the audience, look at the person interviewing you. You are having a conversation, not giving a speech. (That’s good news, right?)

Show nonverbally that you are connected with the questioner. Look engaged by smiling, nodding, making eye contact with the speaker, and leaning forward at times. Have a well-modulated voice and overall pleasant demeanor. Look like you are enjoying yourself, even if you are not.

An outstanding interviewer was Art Linkletter. His television show, House Party, was on the air for 25 years and was highlighted by his interviews with children. He once said about interviews: “The two best interview subjects are children under 10 and people over 70 for the same reason. They say the first thing that comes to their minds. The children don’t know what they’re saying and the old folks don’t care.”

His tongue-in-cheek comment will help us remember that we do want to practice, and we do care about what we say in order to have a successful interview. We don’t want to be perceived as being in either of the Linkletter categories!

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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