For example, at ESPN I interviewed Brady Hoke, the former head football coach at Michigan. We were given four minutes with him. Among the topics that were of interest: 1) Michigan’s recent inability to compete for a Big Ten conference title which for that program is unusual. 2) Who his starting quarterback would be. This information had not yet been disclosed by the team. 3) Urban Meyer taking over as the head coach at Michigan’s biggest rival, Ohio State. Meyer had previously won two national championships at the University of Florida. He is a formidable opponent for the Wolverines. 4) Why did their pre-season Heisman trophy candidate Denard Robinson ultimately play so poorly at quarterback that he would get benched.
Unless Brady Hoke gives very short uninteresting answers, these four topics will most certainly take at least 4 minutes. Thus any other questions added later would likely not get asked. You prepare them like they might, but you assume you’ll never get to them. All of these questions were pertinent to our listeners. You can prioritze them in any order you like, they all feel equally important questions to ask with each offering a hope that you’ll learn something new and interesting. None of them are personal.
The point is, you know what you are going to ask assuming you are prepared for the interview. Now the job is to make the interview feel like a conversation and less of an inquisition. The viewer needs to be made to believe that you are conversing. Think about conversations you have with people you meet who you don’t actually know but have heard a lot of things about. A friend introduces you to one of their co-workers or your parents introduce you to the daughter of an old family friend. How would you go about talking with this person who you have a basis of knowledge about but don’t really know? Conversationalists turn questions into banter. They don’t just pepper the new person with a litany of questions without reacting to what they said and either expressing agreement or disagreement.
Transitions fix this problem. Assuming you know the topic matter, you shouldn’t need to reference the topics by visually looking for those topics. No one brings notes to an interview and reads directly from the notes without stopping to consider the direction of the conversation. So this process begins by listening. If you are listening to the answer and not thinking about what you are going to ask next, following up with become natural and in turn you will naturally ask those questions. This is where your personality will automatically take over. This takes time and practice. Conversations in the real world happen naturally. Except in the world of speed dating, rarely are you placed in a situation where you are told you will be speaking with for a stipulated amount of time at a designated time frame. Thus, your conversation with your subject shouldn’t feel like a speed date.
Staying on topic if the topic remains fresh and interesting is a subject for the interviewing blog. For this specific purpose, lets stay focused on when the interview has reached the point of moving on to the next subject, how and when do you get from one subject to another. Listening. Listen to what your subject said. If Brady Hoke talked about a lack of consistency across the board as the reason why Michigan is not contending for a Big Ten title in recent years and you feel it is time to move on, you can easily transition to the subject of his previous quarterback who failed to meet Heisman expectations or you can go directly to your question about who would be playing quarterback next year. Both are viable and easy transitions to make. Using this fictional example, once Hoke finished his thought about inconsistency, you could pose the next question as such: “That being the case, why not commit to a quarterback for the upcoming season sooner?” You could also ask if the play of Robinson is emblematic of this issue. These are pointed questions but Hoke opened the door for them and presented in a manner that is conversational and not antagonistic could result in a good interview.
You don’t have to do that at all either. You could make this a lighter interview entirely. All of those questions prepared, asked and transitioned to have almost no personal reflection attached to them. Transitioning in ways to make the interview personal to the subject is key. In that regard, off of Hoke blaming inconsistent play for Michigan’s relative competitiveness, you could ask him “what level of personal responsibility does he take for this?” Again, tone would be important. If you phrased it differently as how important changing this aspect of the team is to him personally, it might open the door into his way of thinking or how his past helped him achieve the amount of success necessitated to get the Michigan job (a highly prized coaching position) in the first place. But if you ask all of those questions basically as scripted and do not transition properly to the next subject, the interview won’t feel personal or conversational at all.
Transitioning out of sad or tragic stories is a craft. Often times show producers will put stories about someone passing or receiving a cancer diagnosis at the end of a segment because the transition from it is very hard to make regardless of what the next story is. Sometimes those producers will just go to break off that story feeling as if showing anything about what’s coming up could be perceived as insensitive. There is a risk here. In general, the better bet is to find a away to tease the next material because of the inherent power of the tease. But what is chosen to be teased is important and how you deliver it is equally as important.
No strangely humorous or wild action play should be the next element someone sees off of a sad or tragic story. You cannot go from a star player receives a cancer diagnosis to “wait until you see the top ten plays of the night!” If a rundown has this in place, it must be rectified. Tone will be imperative. Energy as discussed in the delivery section of this blog will fluctuate dependent on excitement level, importance of the story, wistfulness of the material and levity. Here, you must display levity but quickly get to the next item in a thoughtful manner. Tone should not be subdued but it should not be peaking. Consider how you would talk to a friend who just revealed to you their father has undergone major surgery. The conversation may veer at some point to a different and most likely, more appealing topic. Think about how you get from one place to another. When you are broadcasting a story about death or major criminal charges or poor health diagnoses, just think about how you would move on in real life in real conversation with a real person standing in front of you. Move on too quickly, your friend will think you don’t care. Move on to slowly, your friend will think you pity him. Just do what comes naturally here and make sure the rundown offers you a way to remain respectful.
Referencing what you just heard or saw is an easy way to move on from normal everyday stories that do not force you to subdue your tone. Again, listening is key. The object is not to just wait for the light to turn on and you to speak the words you originally planned to say. Make sure you get to those words with a short transition. If your co-anchor just finished conducting an interview with a reporter from a game site, reference something you just heard before moving on to the next thing. This removes some of the barriers between the broadcaster and viewer. It’s like you are watching too and you are part of the conversation. You’ll still get to those planned words but if you transition well, the structure of the forethought won’t be evident to the viewer. The movement within the show will take on a seamless feel when the reality is the show is anything but.
As always you can email me directly at: Bram@reelmediagroup.tv for information about speaking engagements or just general thoughts.
Follow me on Twitter/Instgram/Snapchat: @RealBramW