Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

I Can’t Help You

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This is a quickie.

In the course of these interviews with political candidates, I have had ocassion to interview some folks who don’t always know what they want to say or how they want to say it.  I completely understand that.  Many times, I have several thoughts going through my mind at once and I often have to make me pause long enough to time the traffic lights in my head.  And sometimes, some people are just a little overwhelmed and could use a teeny bit of help.

But some political candidates don’t realize that it is absolutely … and let me say that again, … it is absolutely their responsibility to know what they want to say before they sit down in front of a microphone.  This is important for several reasons.

First, if you want the people’s confidence and, by virtue, their vote, they need to know you can organize critical thought.  They need to see you know how to mentally put one foot in front of the other.  In other words, how do you think when you’re not under pressure.

Next, they need to see that you can think on your feet.  That you can grab facts and concepts from the air and knit them together in response to unexpected questions.  In other words, how do you think when you are under pressure?

Then, you need to show you are able to stay focused on the question while you’re thinking of your answer.  Consistently drifting off or losing your place does not instill confidence in voters.

Then, you need to show them that you have understanding of an issue or at least the savvy to know how to beg off until you can learn more.  Have you researched it?  Has your staff looked into it?  Do you care?

Then, that you can answer the question that was asked, not just repeat your talking points over and over.  Interviewers aren’t stupid and neither is the public.  We hate that.

And finally, that you can be cool under pressure.  That you can defend yourself and your ideas with aplomb, not dripping with passive aggressiveness.  Nobody likes bitchy from anybody.

All of these are important, autonomous skills that the candidate must have mastered because there will be times, in office, when they will choose to go against the prevailing wind and endure unimaginable pressure from enemies, friends and constituents in business and colleagues in other branches of government.  The voter must believe they can stand alone when they must.

So, when I’m asking a candidate a question that I think, because of the office they have registered for they should certainly be able to answer, and they give me a deer in the headlights look because one of these things either has or hasn’t happened, there is nothing I can (or will) do to save them.

Because these people want you to trust them with your money.  They want you to let them do things in your name.  They want you to give them the authority to shape your life and the lives of the people you love and care about for years into the future.  If they can’t handle a few questions, listeners should seriously think about whether they can handle anything more.

Written by Interviewer

May 7, 2014 at 23:42

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