It's my story: helping care-experienced young people give effective media interviews
Some techniques for getting the best out of interviews
There are a variety of techniques people can use to polish up their performance in interviews, but it is better to keep the advice you give to young people as simple as possible. Focus on the main issues during a training session, such as sticking to the agenda. However, you may need to be aware of some of these additional issues, so you can pick up on particular points that arise during interview practice, or in order to answer questions.
This section includes:
- general hints and tips
- body language and voice
- additional hints for television interviews.
General hints and tips for giving interviews
This general list recaps some points already covered as well as offering some new information.
- Don’t try to be a robot – stay human and smile, and use a little humour if it’s appropriate.
- It’s fine to make mistakes – just correct them as naturally as possible. If an interview is pre-recorded you can always ask to do it again.
- Don’t let the interviewer put words in your mouth – correct them politely but firmly.
- Never read from notes during an interview. If you need a reminder of a number or phone number, write this on a card and have it with you.
- If you want the programme to give out a helpline number or website, ask about this beforehand. Also have it available.
- When you are giving out a website address, avoid saying ‘www’ as this sounds a bit weird – go straight into the address.
- If you don’t understand the question, ask for it to be repeated.
- If you don’t know the answer to something, explain this calmly and then use the ABC technique to get you back to your own agenda. For example: ‘I can’t answer that question because I’m not a specialist in the law, but what I can say from personal experience is that …’
- If you are asked questions about areas of your personal life which you do not want to discuss, say politely but firmly ‘That is something I don’t want to talk about’ and then use the ABC technique to talk about your own agenda.
Help young people recognise that it is natural to feel nervous before an interview. (There are stories about famous presenters and newsreaders who have been spotted trembling in the lift before going on air!) See Nerves are normal in the next section.
We convey a great deal about ourselves from our body language. An anxiously tapping foot or arms hugged tightly across our chest give off signals to the viewer – and may also affect our voice, even if the audience cannot see us.
Getting too relaxed and leaning back too much in the chair may convey to the audience that we are a little bit arrogant or nonchalant about the subject. Leaning forward too far can appear anxious or too intense.
Subtle changes in body language can be used to convey different moods and changes in the argument. For example, if you lean forward at a particular point this can signal that you are really engaging with the conversation about this topic – or can help to make other people feel included in the point you are making. However, these techniques are probably best taught by someone who is experienced in training people in interview techniques. In basic training it is better to encourage young people to aim for a still upright - but not stiff posture - during an interview.
Tone of voice
If somebody makes a brilliant or passionate point but does it in a flat, uninteresting voice, the impact of what they say may be lost.
Some people find it easy to use their voices and to recognise ways that other people do this. However, not everyone can do this naturally, so if you find this hard to do, it is best not to go into too much detail about this issue. Simply encourage young people to recognise that their voices can help them make their arguments effectively.
An interesting voice has variations in:
- pace (the speed at which you talk)
- pitch (the way you talk – high and squeaky, deep and resonant)
- projection (how loudly or softly you speak)
Slowing down the pace can help to emphasise a key point. And is appropriate if we are talking about something very sad or serious. Speeding up the pace can make us appear focused and business-like. It can also make us seem happier and more bouncy.
For example, if you are changing the subject with the ABC technique it can be useful to speed up the pace slightly to appear efficient and purposeful as you Acknowledge and Bridge, and then slow the pace down slightly as you take Control and start to make your point. (This works best if done naturally – it is best not to teach someone to do this. Just make them aware that this option is available.)
Changing pitch and projection can also help us make a point. Speaking slightly more loudly and deeply can lend emphasis to a particular point you want to stress. Speaking more gently and softly can make us appear kind and sympathetic.
Alma has a rich, soft voice which is good for radio and television, and she uses changes in pitch and pace to emphasise her points. She also has a friendly expression that encourages the viewer to warm to her point of view. (From media training with Voices from Care Cymru, commissioned by SCIE)
What is most important is to encourage young people to aim for some variation in the way they speak. You can demonstrate this by talking to young people in a monotone (everything at the same pitch and pace and keeping your voice as expressionless as possible). Then demonstrate the contrast by using variations in speed, volume and how serious or light your tone is.
Demonstrating this also provides an opportunity to show that ‘tub-thumpers’ do not make good interviewees. (‘Tub-thumpers’ are people who speak very loudly and forcefully and may bang the table to emphasise their point.) While being passionate about your subject is great, a tub-thumper comes across as arrogant, opinionated and not prepared to listen to other people’s points of view.
Preparing for a television interview
Television often feels more daunting than radio – people feel ‘exposed’ by knowing that the audience can see them. There are also some technical aspects of television which can make interviewees feel intimidated as they are unfamiliar, so it is best to explain these to young people in advance.
These notes provide more detailed information to enable you to expand on the points covered in Slide 17.
- Clothes. Encourage young people to think about the type of image they want to portray to the audience. Encourage them to wear clothes that won’t distract the audience, such as dangly earrings which will catch the light, t-shirts with slogans or detailed illustrations.
- Studio lights tend to wash out pale complexions and make people look ill. All other complexions can look shiny under camera lights so even men can benefit from a bit of make-up in the studio.
- Having a microphone attached to your clothing can be a bit disconcerting so it helps to be prepared for the possibility of this.
- Advice about sitting with both feet on the ground is designed to prevent people crossing their legs - this can look weird on camera especially if you tap your foot nervously while you are talking. Having your feet close to the ground also helps you to feel more centred and ‘grounded’, which helps you feel in control. Aiming for feet as close to the ground as possible and as still as possible is best – but women, in particular, may want to cross their ankles as this feels more natural.
- It is good to aim for a straight-backed but not stiff posture. Keeping your hands in your lap stops you moving them about too much or running them through your hair or playing with the buttons on your jacket during the interview. (It is best not to join your hands as you may end up white knuckled as you clench them together.)
- During an interview you should speak directly to the interviewer, just as you would in a normal conversation. If you look at the camera you appear rather strange! If you are in a remote studio where there is no journalist present, which sometimes happens, then you will need to look directly at the camera.
- After a television interview it is best to stay in your seat and wait to be told to move. You are usually asked to move after the camera angle has moved back to the presenter. It can be rather humiliating being caught moving before you are meant to – and may spoil the interviewee’s experience of an otherwise great interview. Also, don’t forget that they may continue recording, so don’t say or do anything you don’t want to be seen or heard. This did happen once to a prime minister who thought the interview was over and he made a rude comment about some of his cabinet colleagues, which then went out on air! (This is all about staying in control and feeling confident in interview situations.)
Slide 17: sample text
Hints for giving TV interviews
- Wear clothes that won’t distract the audience – you want them to listen to you, not try and read the slogan on your top
- If they offer you make-up, wear it
- Expect to have a lapel microphone tucked into your clothes with the transmitter in your back pocket
- Sit with your feet on the ground
- Sit upright with your hands resting on your lap
- Look directly into the interviewer’s eyes – not at the camera
- After the interview wait until you are told to move