This is part 2 of Face the Press without Stress. You can read the 1st part by clicking here.
“That guy was a complete idiot,” said one of my friends, a classical pianist. He had just been interviewed by a major newspaper about his latest CD, and he was not a happy camper. Steam was coming out of his nostrils.
“This so-called journalist knew absolutely nothing about music,” he fumed. “He asked the most basic questions and I don’t think he could tell the difference between a Steinway and a Clavinova. Worst of all, he didn’t seem to care. Within ten minutes he was off to his next assignment, leaving me with that bloody photographer.”
“I’m going to write to his paper,” he continued angrily. “Next time they should send someone who knows what he’s doing, instead of wasting my time with a nitwit.”
The following day I opened the paper, hoping to find the interview. It was easy to spot. It featured a blown-up photo of my friend staring straight into the camera, looking perpetually peeved. Would anyone buy a CD from a guy who looked that annoyed, I wondered? Pictures are powerful, and first impressions can become lasting impressions in a split-second. Then I read the interview.
What I had feared, had happened: my friend -who really is a wonderful and talented artist- came across as an arrogant bastard. Had I not known him personally, I would have nominated him for the Most Arrogant Artist of the Year Award. One thing was certain: this story wasn’t going to sell a whole lot of CD’s.
When we talked about the fiasco afterwards, I told him:
“I know you’re weren’t happy with the journalist. Keep one thing in mind. You and I are lucky. We have chosen a profession we’re passionate about. We pour our heart and soul into our work. Most people -including your reporter- don’t have that privilege. For them their job is just their job. Besides…
Journalists aren’t paid to care. They’re paid to share.
In fact, in order to tell a story objectively, they need to keep a professional distance. A photographer wouldn’t be able to do his job if he’d stop and help every hungry child in front of his lens. A political reporter wouldn’t be ready to ask penetrating questions if he were afraid to hurt the fragile ego of the person he was interviewing.
Just as it’s better for a surgeon not to get emotionally attached to the opened up patient in the operating theater, reporters must dissociate themselves from their stories and subjects. It’s nothing personal. Remember this:
It isn’t a journalist’s job to be knowledgeable or interested. It is your job to be informed and interesting.
The expert reporter is an endangered species. Dwindling advertising revenues means cutbacks in the newsroom. There are fewer people to cover more stories. Specialists have become generalists in order to survive. There is not enough time for proper research, and almost no budget for in-depth analysis or investigative reporting.
If you’re lucky, your next interview could be conducted by someone who loves what you do for a living, but don’t be surprised if that person is more into heavy metal or chess. Ultimately, that shouldn’t matter. A good story is a good story and you, my friend, have to hand it to him (or her). Here’s why.
You’re not talking to the journalist. You’re reaching out to the audience.
Just as you’re not telling your story to a microphone and you’re not posing to make the camera happy, an interviewer is merely a conduit. He represents all the readers, viewers and listeners you’re really talking to, when you’re being interviewed.
In a strange way, it’s better for you if he doesn’t seem to be too interested or knowledgeable, because most people scanning the pages or flipping the channels aren’t either. But if you manage to draw that interviewer into your story, chances are the audience will follow. Unfortunately, it cuts both ways.
So, no matter how obnoxious and superficial your interviewer may seem, always remember whom you’re talking to. A morning show host might ask basic questions because that’s all his viewers want to know. He might not even listen to your answer because he’s getting instructions in his ear prompter. That’s why it’s up to you to…
Take charge and get your message across in spite of the interviewer.
If you don’t remember everything I’m telling you, please remember this point. Too many people take on a passive role when being interviewed. They prepare to answer questions they think are interesting and essential, and complain afterwards that those questions were never asked. Or worse, they don’t prepare at all and just go with the flow.
You’re not a victim. You have a say in what you put out into the world. Literally. And you won’t get many chances to reach so many people at once, so you better make the most of it
Think about it this way. You know infinitely more about the subject than your interviewer ever will. If you’d only stick to what your interviewer knows or wants to know, you’ll never get beyond the surface. Here’s what you do to manage your message.
Use questions as a springboard to tell what needs to be told.
Often, reporters will throw something at you and it’s not what you want to talk about. The trick is to build a bridge between what’s being asked and what you really want to say.
Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m being interviewed about my voice-over business. Here’s the question:
“Do you think celebrities doing voice-overs are spoiling it for the rest of you?”
Here’s one way to respond:
“Not really. There’s plenty of work for everyone. The author of my latest audio book chose my voice because I am not a celebrity.”
You see how that works? In two sentences you have shifted the focus from talking about other people to talking about your new book. Here are a few more bridges.
“That’s an interesting observation. Before I get that, there’s something you need to know…”
“Thanks for bringing that up. Here’s what’s happening…”
“I understand where you’re coming from. I get that question all the time. What many people don’t realize is…”
Now, I’m not suggesting that you entirely evade the issue at hand like a seasoned politician. I recommend you use the issue to redirect the conversation to get your point across. If you don’t do that, you could spend an entire segment talking about Jeff Bridges and Morgan Freeman instead of promoting your new project.
You don’t have to agree with or pretend to understand everything the interviewer is saying.
That’s another sign of a passive attitude. You can’t answer a question you don’t really understand. Yet, because some people are easily intimidated by members of the press, they hate to admit that they have no clue what the interviewer is asking. To make matters worse, they start imagining what the interviewer could have meant and start answering that.
It’s okay to ask:
“Could you repeat the question, please? I didn’t quite get that.”
Beware of overt or covert assumptions.
As we’ve seen in the question about celebrities, interviewers often won’t ask a straight question but begin with a statement. A few examples:
“It is a well-know fact that people make a lot of money doing voice-overs. Now, let me ask you this…”
“Many believe this is easy money, and I’d like to know how you got into this business.”
“We all know that voice-overs can make a comfortable living, and what I am interested in is…”
It’s very tempting to answer the question following the statement, but before you do, ask yourself if you agree with the assumption. If you don’t, you must challenge it before you answer the question. Otherwise the audience is left with the impression that you concur. Here’s another one.
Watch out for suggestive, leading questions.
In order to win the ratings war, editors and producers all over the world are searching for the extraordinary, the grotesque, the shocking and the violent. The tens of thousands of planes that take off and land safely every day are not news, but the one that crashes is.
Journalists are trained to look for controversy and if there is none, to push the envelope and stir the pot. Suggestive questions are like a loaded weapon.
Think of a question as a laser beam, zooming in on a very small area. If it’s specific, it will direct your thoughts into one direction, excluding everything else. What do the following questions require you to focus on?
“How bad are things really in your business?
Sometimes things can get really nasty, don’t they? Give me an example.”
“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
“What do you dislike more than anything else?”
“Tell me about your client from hell.”
Take a deep breath before you answer those questions, and ask yourself: Do I really want to go there? Do I want to dwell on the negative or highlight the positive?
How’s this for an answer:
“No matter what kind of work you do, there are always things that are not so great and there are things that totally make your day. As a matter of fact, one of my clients called me yesterday…” and then you share a positive story.
You might not control the question, but you can always control the answer!
Look out for false choices and either/or scenarios.
News outlets often aim for the biggest market share to please the sponsors, and therefore cater to the lowest common denominator. In order to appeal to the army of couch potatoes that wants to be entertained instead of informed, simplification is the name of the game. Complicated stories are broken up into bite-sized pieces even my pet gerbil can digest. Thus, reality becomes a caricature.
A favorite technique is to reduce a colorful, complex world to a juxtaposition of right and wrong and black and white. Some networks have turned that into a dubious art form. But as you very well know, there usually are no easy answers. Watch the political shows and wait for it to happen:
“Senator, with all due respect: Do you want to socialize health care or leave it up to the American people to choose their own insurance plan?”
“Are you in favor of big government, or do you want to reduce Washington’s bureaucracy?”
“Should we bomb Iran or increase sanctions?”
“Please answer my next question with a simple yes or no.”
Let’s be clear. These aren’t questions. They are traps; false choices based on either/or scenarios. Remember, if you choose to answer the question as such, you implicitly agree with the options presented to you. Are you sure you want to go there?
If an interviewer tries to drag me into an is-it-this-or-that scenario, I often answer with YES. But usually, it isn’t A or B. Why can’t it be C or D or both? Watch this:
Interviewer: “As a voice-over, what do you enjoy doing most: audio books or commercials?”
You: “To tell you the truth, I love voicing video games. I think we have a clip of the one I just finished. I had such a blast creating the character of….”
You’re not falling for this false dilemma, and with the bridge technique, you use the question as a springboard to talk about things that are on your agenda. I do it all the time and I don’t even realize I’m doing it.
Is this something I am naturally good at or did I need training? (watch the question…)
Well, it’s a bit of both I guess, but it certainly helps to have been on the other side of the mic for many years. I know a few tricks of the trade, and I have lots more to share with you. So, if you’re up for it, I’ll continue our conversation next week.
Here’s are some of the things I’ll talk about: What do you need to know before the interview? Do you prepare differently for a taped and a live interview?
What do you think?
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice