By Bram Weinstein/@RealBramW
Adversarial tone is a hallmark of Fox News.
CNN’s hosts rarely deliver the message the same way.
It’s important to understand the network or station you are working for. Do you fit in with the message? This is not to suggest to not be yourself. At ESPN, Colin Cowherd was expected to deliver much stronger opinions even on divisive matters then a host on Sportscenter. There are differences in the medium so it’s important to know when to use what tone and when.
Adversarial tone will eventually come into play in your dealings with others though whether it be with a colleague or guest. Not everyone is going to agree with your thought processes or your questions. That’s OK and often times can become some of the best moments in broadcasting if respect is maintained.
- Check your emotions.
- Understand which questions might elicit an adverse response and be prepared to confidently, calmly, but strongly maintain your position.
- It’s Ok to be wrong and be corrected, but it is not OK to be run over by an adverse guest.
Remember, this is your show and this is your turf. Watch political shows with Chris Matthews or Joe Scarborough, you’ll see this at work. Tim Russert was a master of maintaining contentious discussions with the ultimate level of decorum. At times, Matt Lauer is asked to perform these level of interviews for the Today Show and is a master as well.
Being prepared is critical because these moments can happen by surprise. Bob Knight is a Hall of Fame College Basketball coach who is now retired and recently worked for ESPN. Occasionally he joined us on Sportscenter for some perspective on an issue or to preview a game he will be calling. It was widely known in our hallways that Knight was not overly interested in doing these interviews. In the case of a recent one with me, things took an interesting turn. Knight called into the show late (I found out after the fact that he wasn’t interested in doing the piece and had to be coerced by superiors to go on because we had been promoting his appearance for about an hour). The subject was Wichita State’s basketball team, whose game he would call later that day on our air. The Shockers were undefeated at the time and closing in on becoming the rare unbeaten to enter the NCAA tournament. The last team to finish a season undefeated in mens basketball was Knight’s Indiana team in the mid 1970’s. You can guess the questions we wanted to ask and Knight was told before hand what exact angle we were pursuing.
But this didn’t go as planned. Knight proceeded to say on air that my question was (without using the word) stupid. I asked him in hindsight to what his team accomplished, based on all the attention that comes with being undefeated, how hard is it on the team to actually do it? He proceeded to tell me that I obviously knew nothing about the sport and fired back, “how hard do YOU think it would be?” I responded calmly, “Practically impossible.” This disarmed Knight and he proceeded to discuss this Shockers team and what life was like for his Hoosiers team that accomplished the feat. Now I was angry about what happened and was particularly displeased that Knight would use so little professional courtesy especially when asked a question he knew was coming. He easily could have told our producer that he’d prefer me ask it a different way or propose a question that he felt like deserved a better response. But he didn’t. Did I look foolish here? Maybe. Did I handle myself the best way possible? Probably. Had I fired back with something to the effect of “That’s a stupid answer,” or simply went into defense mode of the question, he would have pounced. Instead, I utilized a calm adversarial position to get through the interview and get the intended result, some perspective.
Learn lessons in tone in person, in-studio, on January 30th in New York City with myself and former ESPN colleague, Gerry Matalon, who will discuss tips in performance. Sign up HERE. Also, if you’re interested in booking us for speaking engagements, email me at email@example.com or shoot me at tweet at @RealBramW or @ReelReporting.