Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Clap Clap Clap

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Baby Clapping

You know that thing adults do with babies, when they clap with a clapping baby and the baby gets excited so it claps too?  You can hear something like that happen sometimes in interviews.  A guest is explaining something of significance to them and their voice jumps in excitement or it becomes animated in some way.  That’s a good thing.  You want your guest to be excited about whatever it is they’re talking about.  What’s not so good is when the interviewer responds in a way that can sound contrived.  You’ve heard it.  Person A is describing something they care about and person B, not wanting to seem unenthusiastic, mirrors their excitement when it’s clear they’re aren’t excited at all.

I wish interviewers wouldn’t do this.  And I don’t doubt that they probably wish they hadn’t done it the moment they do it.  But it’s understandable why they do it.  Reflecting the tone of voice and body language of the person you’re talking to are techniques not just of interviews but of good communication in general.  Humans are basic in that we want to feel an affinity with whom we’re sharing space and feelings.  So in a lot of ways, when we’re telling our own story, we’re not much different than that happy baby.  We just want to see a smiling face smiling back at us, affirming us.  But to the listener, it can sound like the investment isn’t so deep.

To me, this can be one of those dangers of interviewing, like a scratchy microphone or a hum that won’t go away.  Because as I’ve said before, the interview is a three way between you, the guest and the audience.  And even if the guest doesn’t hear the flatness in an interviewer’s effort to sound up, the audience certainly will.  And if it keeps happening, the audience will start to question the interviewer’s sincerity.

So if it’s happening, what can an interviewer do to fix it?  If they know they do it, they can maybe ask themselves is it just this guest, or have they hit a rut in their interviewing style?  If it’s the guest, maybe they can look for something the guest does that truly excites them.  Asking about that thing during the course of the conversation might help recharge the interviewer so that their questions and enthusiasm sound sincere.  But if it’s something they find themselves doing in all of their interviews, maybe they’ve hit a wall.  Maybe they’ve gotten a little bored.

A way they can try to fix it is to use a trick proofreaders are told catch mistakes; read the text backwards, starting at the period.  This turns the idea of reading on its head and causes one to pay a lot more attention.  Likewise, interviewers who are sounding tired can ask other interviewers to interview them for a change.  It’s a way to rediscover their own excitement for what they do as well as be the one doing the sharing.  Who knows, maybe they might be surprised to find some of it is even enthusiastic.

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Written by Interviewer

December 9, 2014 at 10:30

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