Notes for prospective TV interviewers
Having written, directed and cohosted TV talk shows for over a decade, we are occasionally asked to hold workshops for people who want to become good interviewers on television.
At the last session we conducted, we urged the workshoppers to learn from examples they viewed on TV of actual professional interviewers’ work.
Surprisingly, after doing their viewing “homework,” workshoppers came up with more negative notes than positive ones—which indicates how problematic the local TV talk show and public affairs interview situation has become!
In general, viewers feel that too many TV people conduct interviews without doing enough research on the topics, newsmakers or experts they’re assigned to interact with.
Much of the time, interviewers feel that they’ve “educated” or informed themselves enough to successfully “wing it”—even if the topics they cover are as wide-ranging as medical advances on one hand and ethnic minorities at the other end!
This is an unrealistic and perhaps even delusional view of one’s ability and amazing competence, and prospective interviewers are warned to not go there!
Another no-no for interviewers is their tendency to talk more than their guests! They come up with long-winded and self-consciously “incisive” questions that have their own opinions subtly or overtly “folded” into them.
So, the interview subject isn’t given enough time to make his own points—which is why viewers bother to watch an interview in the first place!
For our part, we added our own observations to the discussion and came up with these more specific notes for prospective interviewers:
Don’t say things like “If I understand you correctly, what you mean to say is…”—because it more than implies that your guest doesn’t quite know how to succinctly express himself without being helped by fabulous, superior you!
Also, don’t say, “Let me ask you a question”—because that’s what interviewers are supposed to do! And don’t just ask a series of cut-and-dried questions “efficiently,” one after another, because the value of an interview lies in the details, the specific examples, the follow-up questions and answers. Also, don’t say, “Before I let you go,” because your guest isn’t yours to do as you please!
More: Understand that, for non-pros, appearing on TV is not a comfortable experience and prospect, so it’s the interviewer’s job not just to ask questions, but also to psychologically prepare his guest for the generally unfamiliar and even intimidating task at hand. You have to make your guest feel confident not just about himself and his views, but also in you and your ability to bring out the best in him!
Finally, realize that all this is being done not to make you and your guest look good, but to be of service to your viewers.
You and your guest are just two individuals, while your show’s viewers can number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands-so, they’re by far the most important part of the TV interview equation.
P. S.: Also, keep in mind that TV time is different from real time—it’s faster, more “loaded” and focused! So, don’t take your sweet time getting “warmed up;” you can share a lot in only 10 minutes of TV time—if you appreciate how it actually works, and the focused illumination that it can produce!
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