How to ask questions
Most media training helps spokespeople present their case to, and we hope, through the media to the readers, viewers and listeners our clients aim to reach.
We also work with journalists, training them in the skills of message presentation as media interviewees. They may be used to bowling balls, but they are not so familiar with how to bat. Yes, they can often advise others about what works and what doesn’t, but they have infrequently done so themselves.
Recently, we’ve started to see another dynamic emerge: the need for specialist interviewing skills.
While journalism training incorporates advice on the art of interviewing into its curriculums, it seems that few if any teaching institutions offer How to Ask Interview Questions as a specific subject.
From what I’ve seen, as with other so-called soft skills, the art of asking questions is neither well-developed nor understood in business circles. The implications include:
- getting the wrong answers, or at least missing elements of accuracy or context
- shutting down rather than opening up the communication
- denying the interviewee the opportunity to say what they really think, know or feel.
Here are a few tips you may find useful if you have to interview people for your own web videos:
1. Let interviewees say what they think and express what they feel by asking truly open (investigative) questions rather than closed (interrogative) questions.
There’s more to this than the simplistic usual advice often proffered about open and closed questions. Senior business people may be so attuned to asking closed questions to get the answers they want, they even think they’re asking open questions.
Not all of Kipling’s six honest friends (what, where, when, who, why and how) are truly open. When, where, what and who can easily result in brief factual answers. How and why lead to longer, narrative style answers, which are essential if you want interesting interviews with the surprises and twists humans are so capable of.
Interrogative questions often start with: can, is, will, have, do. Overused, these will kill interviews.
2. Resist editorialising.
Don’t inject judgment into people’s opinions during the interview.
Professional reporters are a clear window, not a coloured lens, through which viewers see the world.
Of course, if you style yourself as a pundit or commentator, inject your opinion strongly, but knowingly.
3. Each interview ought capture a theme.
Having a variation of themes across your interviews strengthens your body of work. If no theme emerges, try asking a more penetrating question, or see the next point.
4. At the end of each interview, offer the interviewee a chance to put in a nutshell what they want to say.
Journalists sometimes use questions like How would you summarise your feelings? and Is there anything else you’d like to say? to capture a spokesperson’s essence in a concise statement. This can result in a punchier, pithier presentation that becomes a grab.
5. Let people rehearse or retake their answers, if they appear to struggle or get tied up.
Some people give their best answer the second or third time around. Sometimes it’s good to ask, ‘Would you like to try that again?’
6. Load questions with one idea at a time.
Having two or more components to any question increases the likelihood of the answer going awry because of interviewee forgetting part, or choosing an easier part. Asking longer questions also makes video interview editing harder and more time consuming.
7. Ask questions that move your interviewees from abstract (ideas) to concrete (examples) and back again.
This will tend to create well-rounded and interesting reports that include conceptual as well as grounded, narrative elements.
8. Don’t have too long a list of questions.
If you stick to a formulaic list of questions, you can end up resisting natural and more interesting conversational flows. Remember key words in questions you want to cover. Have a few key ideas to cover, then go with the flow, within the boundaries of your project’s aims.
9. Ask about feelings with emotional interviewees and thoughts with cerebral ones.
10. Encourage people to speak up and project, if they are softly spoken — or risk losing the interview.
If you’d like to discuss any part of a video interviewing project and how to make it more authentic and interesting, please free to contact me.
Communication And Confidence
A Fine Line
From Rhetorica Update Vol.3 Issue 3 June 2012
Under and over-confidence are noticeable and common. A shaky, scratchy, voice. Speaking too fast, too loud or too soft. Eyes flitting from side to side at precisely the wrong moments. An intense stare. Hesitant phrasing, passive constructions and qualifiers. Failure to listen. Struggling to pursue an agenda.
Communicating in official and professional contexts induces even stranger affectations. Clouded by the need to impress, one faulty assumption is that if it sounds formal it must be good. It mostly isn’t. An annoyingly common example is unwarranted use of the reflexive personal pronoun, myself.
When risk is not understood or ignored, an ego bubble might need pricking. Followed by a fresh injection of confidence.
In most cases, a confidence lift gets better results than mere technical correction. Science and experience support this:
- Confidence is at once relaxing and energising. It turbo-boosts performance by freeing brain processing power for higher-level listening, thinking and speaking.
- Confidence permeates authenticity through the eyes, hands and voice.
- Confidence is attractive and reassuring, increasing the likelihood of audience receptivity.
Confidence grows best from basis, which comes from belief in your message, understanding your context (audience need, occasion, format), preparing, encouragement, prior achievement and skill.
Steady eyes on the goal ahead more than focus on the slender wire at your feet, gets you along the line.
Someone accused Craig Venter, as he raced to be first to sequence the human genome, of playing God.
He punched back, “We’re not playing.”
After World War Two, some Holocaust survivors doubted that Oskar Schindler could have run a beneficent labour camp in Poland.
In a media conference, a reporter asked Mr Schindler, “How do you explain that you knew all the senior SS men in the Cracow region and had regular dealings with them?”
Schindler replied, “At that stage in history, it was rather difficult to discuss the fate of Jews with the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.”
Short of Writing, Consulting Hands?
Rhetorica is known for distinctive training and facilitating.
We also offer on-call, experienced professional writing and consulting services under retained and project arrangements.
Contact me on +61 421 993 165 or by email for more information.
One More Thing
Practicing for a media interview, Q&A or presentation?
Don’t only brief. Coach too.
Strong coaching in role play builds confidence and incorporates repetition that presses words and phrases into memory. This increases the chances of the right words coming back at the right time, and in the right way.