It's my story: helping care-experienced young people give effective media interviews
Using anecdotes and personal examples
This section helps young people to think some more about the ingredients for a good interview. It will help them appreciate why journalists ask questions about personal experiences – and why viewers and listeners like to hear about these. It will also help young people start to think about the importance of making choices about the examples and anecdotes they use in interviews.
You will probably find that some young people don’t know the word ‘anecdote’ and will need an explanation of this. It is worth introducing this word, because in an interview someone might ask them if they can give an anecdote from their own experiences. It is better that they become familiar with this expression than risk being thrown by hearing the word for the first time in an unfamiliar setting.
Put quite simply, an anecdote is a short story taken from personal experience, used to illustrate a point. It is a very natural way human beings explain things to one another.
Why it’s a great idea to use anecdotes
The way we as human beings connect to other people is through our senses and our emotions – so good anecdotes appeal to our emotions.
Interviewer: ‘So how did you feel when you heard you had received the funding for this project?’
Answer: ‘Really pleased.’
This is a pretty dull response but the anecdote below make the answer more lively and appealing.
Answer: ‘I just couldn’t believe it when the letter arrived. Anna from the project rang to tell me the news. I was gobsmacked. I kept saying "You’ve got to be joking". Then I rang my friend to tell her and she was jumping up and down and whooping on the end of the phone – she knew how much this meant to me. After that lots of different people started ringing me – the phone just never stopped with people ringing to say is it true? Have we really got the money, after all this time?’
Selecting a particular incident to illustrate a point brings it alive and helps someone else connect with something they have not directly experienced themselves.
Ask young people to think up some anecdotes from their own lives – these can be as light-hearted or as serious as you feel is appropriate at the time. You might suggest topics such as an accident, a first meeting with an important person in their lives, a holiday or outing. Get them to share these in pairs and maybe with the group.
You can then expand on this exercise by getting the group to decide on an issue they feel strongly about – and ask the young people if they have any anecdotes which help to illustrate this. Ask someone to share their anecdote with the group. Then encourage members of the group to ask the person who has told the anecdote some questions, to get an even more detailed impression of what happened: ‘So what exactly did you think when you first met her?’ ‘What colour was the car and what make?’, ‘Did you feel more frightened or more surprised?’
In this excerpt from an exercise on interview practice, Neil uses the powerful anecdote of his friend’s death to illustrate his arguments about how the police should control joy-riding.From media training with Voices from Care Cymru, commissioned by SCIE
It’s easier to relate to one human being than many
As human beings we are programmed to relate to other people – and we find it easier to connect to the feelings of one person than we do to connect to impersonal facts. If someone tells us that 1,000 people have been stranded on a hillside after their homes were flooded, we may feel a little bit sorry for them. But we cannot relate to 1,000 people – it is just a number! But when we turn on our televisions and see the faces of just a few of those people – the fear and despair in their eyes – we start to feel a sense of connection. We start to put ourselves in their shoes.
This is the reason why journalists want real people and real stories – and why they ask questions such as ‘How did you feel about this?’. They want their audiences to be able to connect with the person they are interviewing.