Interviews bring out the good, the bad and the plain old bizarre in people. In my 13-year career as a journalist, I must have gone through this simple, but deceptively-skilled, Q + A process several hundreds of times – often talking to people who have never before sat down to delve into the details of their personal ‘story’ with anyone close to them, never mind an official member of the press.
In this situation, my default state of mind confidently clicks into relaxed auto-pilot, steering the talk with firm but friendly control. Within seconds of beginning an interview, it’s amazing how many people I come across who can be placed into three main ‘types’ of talker.
First, there’s the sort who is journalistic gold: they chat easily but don’t ramble, reel off dates of birth, times of weddings, clothes sizes, baby’s birth weights and whatever other details I ask them about to make their story spring to life on the page.
Next, there’s the cul-de-sac gassers, who erratically jump from one decade in their lives to another, starting off anecdotes with no endings or apparent relevance to the subject in hand. With a bit of reigning in, we usually reach our destination, despite the many wrong turns and dead ends!
Finally, there’s the blood-out-of-stone people. You know the sort. You ask a long, detailed question, wait expectantly for a reply but are lucky to get one that consists of a few, half-mumbled words. Silence is my most effective tool when these moments strike. Give these ‘stones’ space and they will – sooner or later – speak.
I hate to pigeon-hole, but men tend to fall into this category, unless they’re celebrities or for whatever other reason have been trained to speak to the media. Does this mean women are natural chatterers then? Or just more willing to talk about the ins and outs of their lives?
In the past week, I experienced yet another interview. Only this time, I was the one facing the questions. Despite my old-hand experience, I have to admit I had a few nerves. ‘Shall we start?’ I was asked confidently, as a mic was thrust into my hands. Then off we went…
My role-switch over, I’d like to think I fell into the first of my three makeshift categories for the radio journalist, studying at University of Sheffield, who been keen to record my thoughts about Sheffield’s bid to become City of Culture 2013 for her final year project. http://www.sheffieldcityofculture.com/
With my journalist’s hat on, this temporary swap of professional shoes was a great way of reminding myself good communication means getting under the skin of the person you’re connecting with.
After all it’s their story you’re telling. So it’s my job to listen up, take note – and let even the hardest stone have a chance to speak.