Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Ummmms, Uhhhhhhs, [beat] and Goodbye

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Goodbye is a pleasantry that I’ve noticed is sometimes absent from my interviews. I try to always remember to say goodbye, because it is a little button of civility that lets the audience know that these two people who just had this great, intense conversation, don’t assume it was all that. A goodbye sort of reinforces the fact that both people respect each other enough to bid each other well. I sometimes forget because by the end, I’m thinking about the editing, but that’s not what I should be thinking. What I should be thinking is this person, after stopping at my port, is embarking again out onto the sea of their own situation and that I should bid them fare-well. I’ll try to remember to say the humble, simple goodbye more often.

As far as ummmms and uhhhhhs, every diction teacher will tell you that they are, literally, wastes of time that show a poor command and organization of the thinking process. When I listen to myself before I start editing, I sound ridiculous, like I just can’t seem to get it together. Of course, like someone looking in the mirror to lose a few pounds, I tend to be pretty hard on myself, probably unnecessarily. But that doesn’t stop me from editing most of them out. I do that mostly because when you’re listening to an interview, what I say isn’t that important, really. I’m just a conduit for prompting the interviewee to say something you want or need to hear. So if my questions are just tools to facilitate conversation, my ummmms and uhhhhhs are even less important. That’s why even as I practice using them less as a crutch, I edit them out of the final version.

The interviewee though, that’s another story. When you’re listening to someone, you are trying to get to know them. So, when they use ummmms and uhhhhhs, I think they need to stay because their use reveals their personality. I can’t, legitimately cut out things that reveal someone’s true nature, like not only what they say but how.

The same thing applies to pauses. People have emotional attachments to what they say, to the stories they tell. Sometimes, they pause because they’re choked up. Sometimes, they pause because that part of the story Godsmacked in real life and they want you to feel the drama too. Sometimes they pause because they’re searching for just the right word. Whatever the reason, long pauses I also tend to leave alone. The broadcaster in me hates dead air. It’s a genetic thing that anyone who has practically grown up around a microphone can’t help. But the storyteller knows people need space. You don’t always want to be smashing their thoughts together faster than they would express them because if you do, in the end, you end up with something that is a caricature of who they really are. And that is the worst thing an interviewer can do.


Written by Interviewer

May 10, 2013 at 05:08

Posted in Scratchpad

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