Part 3 - Interview: Print, Radio, and Television
The television interview1 is the most challenging of all encounters. I combined the skill and knowledge you’ve developed in dealing with newspaper reporters, with the personality and quick thinking vital to radio. The spokesperson who consistently performs well in all three media is a precious asset to his/her employer.
Because television interviews combine radio and print-media skills, the material in Chapters 16 and 17 will comprise a good review of procedures prior to accepting an interview invitation. Overall you’ll find the skills discussed in those chapters appropriate to television application. There, obviously, differences – and additional techniques to be mastered.
A typical television interview requires a reporter, at least one camera person, lights, cameras, cables and wire, a video recorder, a microphone – and you. Some very small stations combine the roles of camera operator and reporter. But in even the simplest case, the technology and equipment is largely foreign to most interviewees; as a consequence the impact can be terribly intimidating. Rehearsing in a studio (or a simulated studio) helps defuse the fear caused by the overwhelming technology.
During the interview it’s important that you ignore everything and everyone except the reporter. Do not look at the camera. Do not talk directly into the microphone; talk to the reporter. Let the technicians capture your conversation; don’t attempt to manipulate their technology.
While the equipment is being set up, it’s a good idea to strike up a conversation with the reporter. This will help you relax; it will also help you fine-tune your knowledge of the reporter and his/her needs with respect to the interview.
Although you may be speaking from a remote location – with no one present but the interviewer, the station personnel and you – it’s important to remember who your real audience is. Try to concentrate on the viewing audience; they are the people you hope to reach with your message. Speak within their ability to relate and to understand. Although you are looking at the reporter, remember that the people sitting at home watching the evening news are your primary information target.
As with the radio interview, much of what you say will reach the viewing audience in your words and voice – provided your answers are concise, and don’t require editing. However, as with the newspaper interview, parts of your message may be interpreted by the reporter. Reporters frequently summarize interviews and circumstances surrounding them, especially if the subject of the interview has been overly wordy. But remember, everything you tell the reporter I significant, not just what you say on camera.
Most interviews are triggered by some newsworthy occurrence, frequently a crisis event. The spontaneous nature of television news makes for interesting interview environments with a great sense of immediacy. It’s not the least bit unusual when you are being interviewed, to find yourself in the midst of a sea of chaotic activity. Reporters like to tape material in busy locations; it adds visual interest, and creates a sense of urgency and excitement. Maintaining the ability to concentrate is a skill worth practicing for spokespersons whose plans include work with electronic media.
If the background activity or the decibel level gets overwhelming, then feel free to tell the reporter that you can’t continue under the circumstances. Most interviews are videotaped, although more and more are being done live with the aid of “mini-cams.” If the interview is being taped, the reporter will likely stop taping and wait for the distraction or noise to quiet down. During live filming, the reporter will have to fill the time until the distraction diminishes to a point where you can continue. But whether it is live or taped, don’t continue the interview if you ability to concentrate is compromised by unusual distractions. This is a value judgment you must make at the spur of the moment.
Television reporters must work within strict time limitations. The actual airtime your interview receives will probably be measured in seconds, not in minutes. Although you may have provided five minutes of brilliant comments, the strong probability is that only twenty seconds will ever be broadcast to the viewing audience. This is the nature of today’s television news. Your story must compete for air time with hundreds of other potentially newsworthy events. It must also be geared to an attention span of less than a minute.
This is the reality of television interviews; you, as a spokesperson, must accept them, and learn to work within their limitations. You must develop the ability to distill your message down to nothing but the most concise statements. This is where the “one-liner” concept is invaluable. You must keep your answers brief, and straight to the point. State your most important information first. Remember: if you are able to reach your audience with only twenty seconds of thought, you must say precisely what you would have them hear, understand, and remember.
Earlier in this book we agreed that audiences tend to accept ideas from people they like, and to reject equally good ideas from people they dislike. Following from that, it is obvious that being a warm, personable human being, the first step in getting the audience to like you, takes on great importance. With your average speech, you may have fifteen minutes or more to build rapport with your relatively small audience. During a television interview, you may but a few precious seconds. Viewers sitting comfortably in their living rooms will find it difficult to warm up to you if you are a cold, stoic spokesperson. Even the most serious issues can be discussed with warmth and compassion.
Remember that your audience will see only a small portion of your interview. They may never hear the question you are responding to, nor the background information you provided during an earlier answer.
Repeating words or phrases the reporter used in his/her question can instantly make them yours; the viewers may never hear them spoken by the interviewer. Make it a rule to use your own words. If you don’t want a statement credited to you, then don’t make it. Don’t let others put words or thoughts “in your mouth.”
The average viewer considers a “no comment” response tantamount to a guilty plea. “No comment” statements are ineffective – even damning – replies to reporters’ questions. You are far better off explaining just why no additional remarks can be offered at that specific time. Without such an explanation, you will probably seem simply evasive; viewers will presume you must have something to hide. A brief explanation of why you have nothing to say will satisfy the average audience.
In Chapter 9 we discussed blunders and how to cope with them. The same general rules apply for television interviews.
During a taped interview, if you find that you misspoke, tell the reporter immediately that you made an error and that you would like to begin again. Errors are not uncommon; indeed, reporters frequently foul their lines and opt for retaping themselves. It’s better to call attention to your error on the spot, and get it straightened out immediately, than to continue – while worrying about your comment and how it might be used.
During live interviews you must correct yourself as you speak, without benefit of a second chance. Still, if you say something that is incorrect or that you really didn’t mean to say, it’s okay to retrieve and clarify your words. Do not let an error go uncorrected for lack of your own initiative. Speak up. Be assertive. Admit your error, correct it, and continue.
Let the television crew tape as you are. If you normally wear a hardhat and rolled-up sleeves at the plant, then don’t hide the hardhat. Don’t don a necktie and button your cuffs when the camera crew shows up. Be sensitive to how the audience will perceive your attire, but be yourself.
Expensive designer clothing may damage your credibility on certain issues before specific audiences. The temptation to dress up for television interviews should be avoided. Simply clothing is your best bet, as it appeals to the broadcast range of people. If viewing audiences remember your stunning outfit but can’t recall your message, then you’ve failed.
Sprucing up your office is also unnecessary. Let the crew show it the way it is: a busy place of work. If it looks spotless and totally uncluttered, viewers may wonder what you do. To them, what you do obviously isn’t work as they know it.
Bad breath may strike some speakers as funny, but standing toe-to-toe with a reporter can be embarrassing if your breath is on the potent side. Reporters must sometimes stand uncomfortably close to stay in the shot. If you suddenly realize that the reporter is in range of your breath, you may worry about that during the interview. With so many other things to think about during an interview, the last thing you need is the fear of having bad breath. Carrying a pack of mints in your briefcase in case of “emergencies” will minimize this concern. Many spokespersons make it a habit always to have a breath freshener nearby. If you do so, it will give you one less potential problem to worry about.
As most reporter teams carry only one camera, it is standard procedure that they film you over the reporter’s shoulder. This way the viewers can see all of you but little of the reporter.
To remedy this situation, reporters will use “cutaways” or “reverse shots;” shots made in the opposite direction to show the reporter’s face. Sometimes the reporter is taped while listening intently, while other cutaways may show him/her asking a question. These shots are usually made after the actual interview. They may ask you to stay for a moment to pose while they shoot additional footage. If the reporter is doing to tape himself asking questions, it’s a good idea to listen carefully – to insure that he/she asks the same questions that were asked during the interview. The reporter’s questions will then be spliced in later with their better camera angles. If you do hear a different question than the one you were asked, cal it to the reporter’s attention. Such an occurrence is usually an honest error. But leaving motives aside, it is usually a good idea to stick around until the crew packs up, just to make sure.