Vox Pop

The art and science of the interview

Do The Math

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The responsibility of a listener is to listen to the question the interviewer asks and listen to the answer the interviewee answers and decide if the answer answered the question.  Sometimes, you have to ignore the softness or confidence or the tone of an interviewee’s voice you like.  Those things might just be sizzle.  And politicians, like advertisers know that when selling steaks, sell the sizzle.  But when choosing someone to represent you in government, remember that the sizzle won’t feed you and if the meat is rotten, you still go hungry.

Think of what you hear from a politician like an addition problem.  On one side are some numbers:

1+2

And on the other side is a number:

3

And in between them is something that promises they’re the same:

=

When a politician is asked a question, listen to the answer to see if the answer actually addresses the question.  Do the question and the answer have equal weight, equal validity.  Do they both point in the same direction which should be toward understanding the essence of the answer as it strictly relates to the essence to the question?  Does the answer fill holes the question opens up in a subject?  Check what you hear, since sometimes, when politicians answer a question, you get this:

1+2=3333333333333333333333333333333 (way too much)

Or, this:

1+2=2.99 (not quite enough)

Or this:

1+2=Tallahassee, FL (completely unrelated)

Or this:

1+2=49 (just plain wrong)

Whenever you hear this:

1+2=3

Then, you know you’ve heard a real answer and this person can probably be trusted to be truthful.  Agreement with them is less important than truthfulness since truthfulness tends to lead to respect.  And respect, even between people at different ends of the political spectrum who don’t agree, is still the holy grail of how politics should ideally work.

I’ve talked before about how some interviewees either intentionally or unintentionally don’t answer questions.  Always, it’s the job of the interviewer to detect those inconsistencies and flush them out.  And sometimes, the interviewee is trying to answer a poorly posed question.  That’s the interviewer’s fault, not theirs.  But either way dear listener, in the end, know that it’s your responsibility to do the math.

Written by Interviewer

April 15, 2014 at 02:22

I Agree

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This is a quickie.

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with politicians as part of a project to invite as many Oregon 2014 candidates as possible to the microphone and let the public hear their views.  In many cases, these candidates have been ignored by their party in favor of candidates that have already been approved by the larger political machine.  In others, the candidates don’t affiliate themselves with that machine, opting instead to run a “grass roots” campaign.

The point of this post, though, is messaging and how some candidates, even if unknown, are much better at it than others.  An interviewee with experience turning the agenda during an interview can use many tricks to do that.  A really cool one is trying to subtlety make the interviewer complicit to their point of view.  For example, consider this exchange;

Q: What do you think about the opinion of some that taxes are too high?

A:  I agree with you that taxes are too high, and this is how I would fix that …

I agree with you?  The interviewer was asking a question about a question, not making a statement or giving a personal opinion.  But to bring credibility to their own views about taxes, a clever interviewee might turn the question into an opportunity to trick the listener into thinking the interviewer has the same opinion about taxes as the interviewee.  This technique can be used for any subject, and the interviewer must immediately challenge the reply by making clear that they have no position on the subject.  But if the interviewee manages to slip it in, the egregious “I agree with you that taxes are too high, and …” can simply be edited out.

I’ve talked about credibility dangers the interviewer can face.  The interviewee is not talking with you to enhance your credibility.  They are there to enhance their own and sometimes, they will try to do that by any means necessary.  An interviewer’s job is to make clear everything the interviewee reveals without allowing their own credibility to suffer in the process.  As I’ve said, the point of these interviews is to let people hear the candidates and their views.  Hopefully, they also hear how and what the candidate doesn’t say.

Written by Interviewer

April 14, 2014 at 23:45

A Mighty Wind

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I’m doing a lot of editing right now.  And when I edit, I hear things I want to talk about as part of the interviewing process.  One of those things is the message.  The interviewer is neither the messenger or the message.  He or she is the conduit only.  But the interviewer is referee, governor, filter, interpreter.  In other words, the interviewer has the responsibility to help the listener not waste their time by making what they hear crystal clear.

This can be a problem when you have a long-winded interviewee.  I’ve talked before about interviewees who may be purposely trying to obfuscate an issue by taking around it or intimidate the interviewer.  But what I’m talking about here is a guest who has a lot of very relevant things to say, but the problem is they have way too many of them.

Specifically, you ask a guest a question.  The guest begins to answer the question.  Then, for perhaps context, the guest decides to tell a personal anecdote.  That personal anecdote might then lead off on a tangent.  Sometimes, if they get too far afield, you have to interrupt to pose the question to them again.  If you’re lucky, the guest returns to the original question and reiterates the question themselves with an answer.  But now, you have a long winded response that, although entertaining and relevant, it a lot more than you have time for, let alone what the listener has patience for.

When editing something like this, it’s very important to get to the point while not taking too many liberties with what they’re saying so that the chain of understanding is not broken.  It’s easy to cut out a block of what might seem like a meaningless story, only to realize you need a connector that the guest used a couple minutes back to have any hope of making a seamless edit that makes sense.  For instance, a guest might say, “Well, to answer you question about gun reform … and then tell a long story about going shooting with her uncle, and then move onto an experience of being stopped by a cop because they saw a gun under their jacket … and then, finally summing up the need for looser gun laws by saying something like … “so, I think people should have the right to carry a gun if they’re properly permitted and have never been convicted of a crime and have no mental illness.”

Uh oh.  First of all, the answer is too short now.  Some questions deserve answers with a little meat. And in the middle of the story, they may have mentioned permitting and not having a record and never having gone to anyone for counseling, but you didn’t notice.  So now, they are at the end of the story and they mention three concepts the listener hasn’t heard except in the middle of all of that other stuff.  So you’ve got to go back into those pieces of the story you just deleted and find those mentions so you can rebuild a more complete and meaningful thought, just with a lot fewer words.

You can’t leave in the whole story because you don’t have the time.  But you can’t connect the beginning to the end without some of the stuff in the middle that ties the two ends together.

Editing is like learning a script for a play.  You have to learn your lines and everybody else’s.  Once you do, you know where things go and how they make sense.  Only then, can you know how to cut them up into smaller but better pieces.

Written by Interviewer

April 11, 2014 at 06:12

Keep Talking

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Written by Interviewer

April 11, 2014 at 03:16

Posted in Scratchpad

Keep Talking

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I want to mention that formatting some of my most recent posts has been kind of hinky.  I don’t know what WordPress is doing but I’m sure there is often somebody making tweeks that don’t work and then, those tweeks get undone and things go back to working seamlessly.  I’m hoping it soon moves back to the seamless part.

Anyway, this is another quickie.  It has to do with the interviewer’s mistakes during an interview.  Specifically, the concept of fixing as you go.  If you’re live, then your fixes are awkward because everybody hears them.  You have a brain fart, you stutter, you recall wrong information, whatever.  If this doesn’t happen too often, you are probably endeared to your listeners as being an authority, but not TOO much of an authority because, you can make mistakes just like them.  I’ll be talking about perfect host speech in a later post.

But if you’re recording the conversation for later editing and broadcasting/posting, your guest probably doesn’t care if you fix as you go.  In fact, they may be fascinated by the process because they too may not realize mistakes are made that the audience never hears.  When I, as a young reporter, learned that fix as you go was an essential tool for narration, it changed my world.  Because until then, you tend to want to be perfect.  Learning the mechanics of articulation can be a blessing and a curse.  Your speech improves by orders of magnitude once you learn how it should sound, about proper pronunciation and placement of tongue on teeth for words, letters and syllables.  But conversely, once you start noticing your own mistakes, you never want to make any.  And that means a young producer or reporter might spend way too much time starting over from the beginning ever time they make the slightest grammatical mistake.  That old joke of someone doing ten, twenty, thirty or more re-takes … sometimes it’s not a joke.

So the fix it as you go method is, you’re reading your text.  You make a mistake.  Do you go back to the very beginning of the document?  No.  Do you go back to the beginning of the paragraph?  No.  At most, you go back to the beginning of the sentence, taking care to remember your volume, pitch, cadence and mood so that when you edit out the mistake, it sounds seamless.  At the very least, you pick up at the word you messed up so you’re cutting a single word instead of a sentence worth of them.

Here’s what it might look like:

The case was returned to Grand Jury for … the Grand Jury after the Attorney General …

The mistake was in the first half of the sentence.  The reader forgot to say “the”.  This happens a lot because the brain is always ahead of the mouth.  Often you hear people skip words or juxtapose letters or syllables when they talk.  In the edit, all you have to do is cut out the first “Grand Jury for” and you’re good to go.  Plus, the fewer times you repeat words you’ve already spoken, the less of a chance you’ll misspeak them again, which also saves time and can prevent those annoying re-takes.

That might not sound like a big concession, to not repeat the whole sentence in favor of just a word or two.  But if you are OCD, like so many producers and reporters are, you realize that immediately continuing on from the point you messed up will save you scores of minutes of editing.  And if you’re under deadline, one second too late is still one second too late.

Written by Interviewer

April 11, 2014 at 03:00

Posted in Scratchpad

Tagged with , , , ,

The Deep Breath

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This is a quickie.

I’ve noticed that some questions make some people take very deep breaths before they answer. The American Stress Institute says a deep breath is a signal that someone is trying to relieve stress about a situation. When we are frightened or simply stressed, we tend to hold our breath or take rapid, shallow breaths. Our hearts pound and muscles clench as our adrenaline kicks in.

To me, deep breaths seem to almost always be a signal of one of three things:

(1) The guest doesn’t know the subject and are afraid their lack of knowledge will cause them to embarrass themselves, or

(2) They know the subject very well and are afraid their answer might reveal something about themselves they may not want to reveal, or sometimes,

(3) They are relieved that I didn’t ask a question they thought was coming.

Then again, sometimes people just forget to breathe.

You might sometimes hear the same type of response to 1 & 2; evasive, non-specific or rambling. For number 3, the guest might suddenly perk up and their responses get brighter because they are more relaxed.

If you’re interviewing someone and you hear a deep breath, remember the trigger or the context. There is something there somewhere that may spark a reveal later.

Written by Interviewer

April 8, 2014 at 04:00

How to Transcribe

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I don’t have time for this post, mostly because I have about a dozen interview transcripts I need to create.  But it is the perfect opportunity to talk about transcribing using Dragon NaturallySpeaking v 12 (DNSv12)  as well as different techniques for creating transcripts.  I hope it helps you. I’ve talked about the need to create transcripts before, but this is about actually creating them.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking v12 works in two ways that I find helpful to different degrees.  First, it reads text which, if you’ve visited my state constitutions website, is critical for voicing impossibly long text documents.  It recognizes punctuation, knows when sentences begin and end and uses rudimentary but adequate accenting and emphasis for words and sentences.  This it does very well.  The other thing I need it for; transcribing, it doesn’t do as intuitively.  I Tweeted DNS and suggested that their next version include a timed transcription feature.  They’re response seemed less than personal and a little rushed.  I guess they’re really busy.

I’ll be using an interview I just did with a political candidate as the example.  Candidate Eric Squires is running for HD 26 in Oregon.

DNSv12 lets you drop .wav audio files (not .mp3) into a box called “DragonPad” that turns the audio file into words.  The problem is the software rarely hears punctuation, so it doesn’t know when to end sentences and it doesn’t capitalize words at the start of sentences.  Here is the intro to the interview w/Mr. Squires as the software heard it;

“I’m Don Merrill and I’m talking with Eric squires and squires is a Democrat who is running for the seat in House District 26 the district includes Wilsonville Sherwood Kings table Mountain and Greenville squires think very much for talking thanks Raven here.”

This is how the text should read:

“I’m Don Merrill and I’m talking with Eric Squires.  Mr. Squires is a Democrat who is running for the seat in House District 26.  The District includes Wilsonville, Sherwood, Kings City, Bull Mountain and Greenville.  Mr. Squires, thank you very much for talking with me.  Thanks for having me here.”

You may have noticed something else the software doesn’t do.  It doesn’t put each person on their own line. To fix that along with the other things it doesn’t do, you can go through the text manually after the software has read it.  But that means that you also have to listen to the audio as you’re reading the text so you can fix it as you go.  Otherwise, you’ll miss words that you don’t see but are in the audio that the software missed.  If you download the entire audio file,  you have to consider the total length of the audio you’re listening to and add the time it takes to make corrections to the text.  In the end, you might spend up to twice as long or longer creating an accurate transcript.

There is another way to transcribe your audio. If you use DNSv12, it can recognize spoken commands like punctuation, line changes, proper nouns, etc.  And once you set it up on your PC with a microphone, you can repeat the interview into the microphone and DNSv12 will create an accurate transcript.  But there is a trick to this.

The audio you want to transcribe has to be on another playback device like a microcasette player or digital recorder. Put on headphones from that playback device and start the DNSv12 software on your PC.  Repeat (in your own voice) into the DNSv12 microphone what you hear through your headphones. And when you speak, remember that you have to speak in a very specific way that the DNSv12 software can understand.  Let’s go back to the Eric Squires intro.  When speaking into the microphone, this is how you have to speak to get an accurate transcript like the one following the example below:

COMMAND: Capital DM
COMMAND: colon
COMMAND: space
I’m Don Merrill
COMMAND: comma
and I’m talking with Eric squires
COMMAND: period
COMMAND: space
Mr Squires is a Democrat who is running for the seat in House District 26
COMMAND: perod
The District includes Wilsonville
COMMAND: comma
Kings City
COMMAND: comma
Bull Mountain and Greenville
COMMAND: perod
Mr Squires
COMMAND: comma
thank you very much for talking with me
COMMAND: period
COMMAND: new line
COMMAND: Capital ES
COMMAND: colon
COMMAND: space
Thank you for having me here
COMMAND: period

NOTE: The word “Command” is only there to tell you a command is necessary for the software. Don’t say the word “Command”.

And this is how it should look:
DM: “I’m Don Merrill, and I’m talking with Eric Squires.  Mr. Squires is a Democrat who is running for the seat in House District 26.  The District includes Wilsonville, Sherwood, Kings City, Bull Mountain and Greenville.  Mr. Squires, thank you very much for talking with me.
ES: “Thanks for having me here.”

The advantage of this form of transcription is, once you get the technique down, you can complete an accurate and properly formatted transcript in one reading. If you’re repeating an hour long interview, it can get tedious which is why it requires concentration. But the trick, besides knowing how to speak in a way the software recognizes is to learn how to speak exactly what you hear without thinking about it. The words almost have to flow into your ears and out of your mouth into the microphone. If you do too much thinking, you lose your place, you have to start over and you get frustrated.

In both cases, the software has to be first “trained” to recognize your voice. The disadvantage of the first technique; dropping an audio file into DragonPad, is that in conversation, we tend to not speak as precisely as we would if we were reading specifically for the software. Normal conversation has slurs, shortcuts and slang that the computer would have a hard time recognizing even if it could recognize our voices perfectly. Plus, remember that the software is not trained to recognize other voices. So in the end, you have to do all of the work anyway.  It seems to me that the second technique for transcribing is the better of the two.

DNSv12 has lots of features, including backspacing, delete and repeat among others.  And its text read function is wonderful.  Its transcribing function is something to be desired, but it is better than manual transcription, which can be hellish.

Written by Interviewer

April 6, 2014 at 02:40

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