Friday, 15 July 2011

Be Helpful

A number of years ago the Walker Brothers  sang ‘Make it Easy On Yourself’* and it’s still something that you need to keep in mind when taking part in any interview. Because sometimes you will come across a presenter, a journalist, an interviewer who doesn’t know what they are doing.

Like in any other job people have found themselves in a position that is beyond their capabilities; un fortunately that position means that they are talking to you… with no real idea how to.

To get the best out of the situation you need to guide what is happening.

Firstly ignore the closed question. Journalism 101 states that you should not ask a closed question. (one where the answer is just yes or no or a single word) If I were to ask you ‘did you enjoy the film’ the nerves of sitting in an interview situation may make you answer ‘yes’ instead of ‘yes I did enjoy the film, it had plot, excitement and things blowing up. What was there not to like?’. You need to be descriptive and let the interviewer of the hook. If you can answer in a full sentence then even better for getting a news clip (see entry on Soundbites).

Secondly stack up the sub-clauses and answer the most interesting or advantageous one. I have to admit that on occasions I have asked a poor innocent interviewee a question with more subclauses than Rebekah Brooks severance package. Their little eyes used to fill with terror as they tried to untangle the big question from the satellite smaller ones. Don’t just answer the last thing that came out of their mouths it often isn’t the most important question.

Thirdly, don’t get cross. The temptation to become cold or difficult when you come up against a bad interviewer is there. Don’t. No one will come out of it with their dignity intact. Take this example of an out of depth interviewer and an annoyed interviewee


Les Ross is one of the most respected commercial radio presenters in the west midlands. He has a huge heritage following from his many years at BRMB. Les started his career with the BBC and then after many years returned to an organisation who’s expectations had changed. It had become a job for a journalist and not a ‘jock’. This interview with Hardeep Singh Kohli is difficult to listen to; Les gets the research wrong, but Hardeep doesn’t keep cool. He could have asked to start again with the correct facts and continued from there in an allocated interview slot of 10 minutes (industry standard at the time) he had 6 minutes left. No one comes out of this sounding good.

Like any other job, it’s not always the cream that floats to the top. Like any other job, sometimes there is the right person in the wrong job. Just remember to help them help you.
*no, I'n not sure why I mentioned the Walker Brothers either.

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