Let's role reverse - you ask the questions. . . .

8 May 2016 4:00 PMMike Bennett
Let's role reverse - you ask the questions. . . .

Almost everything I've been involved in from local radio through to sports presentation and TV news has involved interviewing of some description and, for me, it's the most interesting and fun part of the job. Let's face it, everyone wants to know something about somebody so why not make it work for you?

Someone asked me the other day just how much research goes into an interview before going live on the radio or via the internet? On most occasions very little, sometimes none at all yet the secret is t make sure you sound like you're fully up to speed on the subject matter.

There was one occasion many years ago back in the UK when I was working for ITV Anglia news. The editor called me away from my original ‘cat stuck up a tree’ story to a 'breaking news’ item where a well-known local politician had defected from the Labour Party to the Lib Dems. My job was to find out why and come back with enough material for a 2 minute piece. To say that my knowledge of local politics was limited would be an understatement yet, using the techniques I'm about to share with you, not only did I "get away with it" we ended up leading on the story and no less than 3 of the interview soundbites made the final package. So, if you're interviewing someone on Skype for your webinar or magazine and you know next to nothing about them, just try some of these. . . . 



There's nothing better to gain the trust of the interviewee than you sharing the fact that you know very little about them, their sport, their background, their history or even their story. It shows you're human and that you're not pretending to be the fountain of all knowledge. Your listeners are more interested in what the interviewee has to say than your ever so clever questions. The fact is, nobody likes a smart arse so just be up front and people will respect you more for it.



I can't think of any occasions when the 'who, what, why, where and when' approach doesn't work.

Who's to blame, what went wrong, why has this happened, where do we go from here and "when will I, will I be famous?" (OK, I stole the last bit from a Bros song in the 80s but you see where I'm going with this?) These are just the basic questions that will get you out of trouble and provide your audience with a good understanding of the story. Someone once asked "Why don’t you have the word HOW on that list?"

Erm. . . because it doesn’t start with W????   YES, you can use the word how if you really want to!



Benny Hill asked this question when playing someone being interviewed by a dumb reporter and it's true to this day. The best interviewers listen! On many occasions I have NO IDEA what I'm going to ask any of my studio guests, sportspeople, celebs or people on the street until I hear their first answer then we go from there. As I said on my last blog about radio, you and your interviewee know why you're there so there's no need to have it all written down unless you have a 'killer question' (remember tip 1 though!) that you really want answered. If you’re running a live webinar and you have lot of time to fill there's no harm in having a few key areas written down to remind you but, if you actually listen then react to their answers you'll have a much better experience.



Gone are the days of expecting results by constantly interrupting, being aggressive or. . . go back to tip number one?   If you're podcasting, you are sharing a story with your subscribers and you want them to come back. If you bully your guests, belittle them, put them down or argue with them just as a point scoring exercise, you're likely to lose your audience. There are TV programmes and radio shows for that type of interview and I've always managed to gleen far more information by nodding and listening if we're face to face or just letting the person talk if it's a telephone or web based interview.



Sometimes your interviewee will just dry up, give out all of their info in the first answer or simply chose to make your life difficult. These things happen and, on those occasions, it really is best to just pull the plug, make your excuses and leave as they say.

One of the UKs finest and most respected interviewers was Michael Parkinson. A natural interviewer with a superb style who could relax almost anyone and produce quality television by being polite and showing a genuine interest. He interviewed everyone and anyone over the years from Mohamed Ali through to Billy Connelly with most politicians, celebs and even Royalty appearing on his show. When American A list actress Meg Ryan came on the show it was nothing short of cringe worthy and could have easily become 'car crash TV' so Parkinson actually said words to the effect of "you really don't want to be here do you?" when she agreed he simply said "Ladies and gentleman. . .Meg Ryan" and that was the end of the interview. Parky came out on top by ending the pain for everyone.

Try some of these on your next podcast, webinar, skype interview or magazine article. Just remember to go back to tip 1 every time!