I want you to think for a moment about the last interview you did with a reporter. The reporter asks you a question then you start talking. Think very carefully now – what were you wondering the entire time you were answering the question?
In most cases, my media training students will confess that the entire time they were talking, they were thinking, “I wonder what the reporter is going to ask me next.”
Well here’s a little confession – Most of the time while I was a reporter, the entire time people were answering my question I was wondering what I was going to ask them next.
This means that in most interviews, both people are distracted, wondering what the next question will be and therefore neither is really concentrating on what the current answer is.
Therein lies the biggest problem in most interviews and therefore the greatest opportunity.
Here is what you need to know about reporters to fully understand how the interview will go down. In most cases, the reporter has no written, prepared questions before the interview. And chances are the reporter has not done an extensive amount of advanced research.
If you are dealing with an investigative reporter or a television network news magazine, you can expect the reporter has done more research and has some specific questions to ask. But in your average interview for your average story I would estimate that 80-90% of the time, the reporter is going to make up the questions on the spot when the interview begins.
The interview will start with “soft” questions, designed to help you relax and get into your comfort zone. As the interview progresses, the questions will become more direct and possibly more negative.
But here is the big secret – How you answer the current question will dictate what the next question is. Even more specifically, the words you use at the end of your answer will often be used by the reporter to craft the next question.
In other words, the reporter will mirror your language right back to you in a form of a question. For example, if my final words are, “…the challenges we’ll face next year will eclipse the challenges we face this year…” what do you think the next question will be? The reporter will ask, “What are the challenges you expect to face next year?”
To test this theory, watch a TV news anchor talking to the reporter who is live on the scene of an event. The anchor will ask a question and the reporter will repeat part of the question back to the anchor as part of their answer.
Mary the Anchor: “Bob, it sure looks like a disaster zone out there…”
Bob the Reporter: “It sure is a disaster zone out here Mary…”
I’ve developed a system for crafting answers that foreshadows the things that I want to talk about in an interview, followed by a “cliff hanger” or a sentence that creates some suspense. The trick is to always stop short of giving all of the details about something and to make the reporter want to know more. You want to make the reporter ask you a logical follow up question.
Observe news anchors tossing questions to reporters on live locations and in your next interview try to create a few “cliff hangers” that will make the reporter ask you the logical follow up question that you want.
This technique makes life easy for the reporter because they never have to think very hard about their next question. You, therefore, are controlling the interview and the questions. The reporter is just following along.