There were two rooms for interviews, each with three judges in each room sitting on the panel. Both of the panels had one or two former ambassadors while the rest were from academia or non-profit work. For those of us who were lucky enough to be in the first session of interviews, we had no idea what to expect (we didn't have bloggers for insider's info on this). The interviews were 25 minutes, with five minutes or so in between interviews. We were all just talking and waiting in the lobby for our turn. Afterward stepping out of the room, some were confident and at peace, but others were nervous and sullen.
I was obsessively nervous about the interview during the weeks leading up to it. I picked up reading new books during heavy school courseloads, scheduled practice sessions with my professors, and read the news from top to bottom every day. Once I got there, I was not as nervous as I thought I would be. Mostly because after meeting the rest of my Pickering finalists, I didn't think I stood much of a chance. I was sure this was just another competition where I only reached the finalist level, and I would be totally okay with that. I was so happy to have gotten this far, but did not expect to win amidst students who had extensive travel and more extensive language learning. Thus, I walked into the interview without that biting nervousness I saw in other students. I was able to speak with ease, enthusiastically, but still casually because I did not feel that impending sense of pressure from everything that was at stake. I found out later I was not the only winner who felt this way walking into the interview. Thus: freak out as much as you like the weeks before the interview, but on the day of the interview, it's really all done and out of your hands because you walk in emanating who you are and that's what they're really after.
I was introduced by one of the members of the panel to the rest of the members and sat down in the middle of the room. The panel was much friendlier than I was expecting and the interview was not a brutal session of interrogation. It was very similar to a job interview (and I've had about a dozen of those) so I was not unfamiliar with the format. They all took notes and smiled attentively in all of the interviews as far as I heard. I was terrified, however, because someone on the panel closed their eyes for what seemed like forever during one of my questions. I suspected I was being long-winded and rushed to finish the question. I thought I had not gotten the spot for sure, but other Pickerings told me of some of the members of their panel doing interesting things, including shoving their glasses in their mouth. After the session, I was escorted out of the room, to continue onto the rest of the day as a Pickering finalist, meeting other finalists and reviewing the contract I was hoping but not expecting to soon sign.