Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Laugh

Social Engineering, Radio Style

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Mouth and Microphone

You can hear an announcer sound friendly.  It’s when the corners of their mouth go up in a smile as they talk.  You can actually hear it in your earbuds or speakers when it happens.  It’s tangible.  Just like you can hear when they inject a momentary laugh (that sounds almost like a stutter) into a sentence.  In both cases, the speaker is trying to connect with you emotionally because they’ve been trained that a happy announcer makes for a relaxed listener.

You’ll hear that very short laugh, most often, when the speaker has made a mistake, like if they mispronounce a word.  Almost instantly, you’ll hear the stutter laugh, which is deployed in a self-deprecating manner that says, “I’m human and I made a mistake. Isn’t that funny?”   It’s interesting that so many announcers do it considering they are also trained to not draw attention to mistakes.  But you’ll also hear that laugh when the announcer is trying to grease a thought that will help you slide along beside their intention.  For instance, if a news reader is talking about a non profit’s mission that they believe in, although they can’t say so, they may unconsciously give a stutter laugh that quickly says, “This thing is good”, thus sending a flash message that it’s worth your consideration.

I also hear the stutter laugh is when the announcer, host or interviewer has a degree of contempt for something they’ve just heard or read.  But most professionals are savvy enough to know that also sends a quick and clear message that could cause the audience to question their credibility and impartiality (if their audience cares about such things), so they don’t use that laugh as much.  Often, I hear it used somewhere in a statement to add a momentary bit of levity to that statement.  And sometimes, I hear it when the speaker is reacting to something that either is or isn’t funny, but only mildly so.  But in almost all cases, it’s not about humor.

The smiling behind the mic is a little more involved.  Admittedly, when I hear someone who sounds technically proficient but low on emotion versus someone who sounds warm, I gravitate to the warmth.  In most situations where someone you can’t see is talking through a smile, they’re going to sound warm.  The thing about that is even though it sounds really sincere, you couldn’t get away with it in person.

There’s this thing called the Facial Action Coding System, which was developed back in the 1970s.  It identified every muscle of the face and created a matrix of combinations that identified almost every human emotion depending on which muscles you moved.  Whether the test subjects actually felt the emotions that gave them the faces, or whether they forced the faces, the emotions, strangely, followed.

But faked emotions don’t work when you’re facing another human being because we’re way too sophisticated to be fooled by feelings that aren’t real even if all the right muscles are pulled.  We add body language and vocal quality to facial expressions to help us calculate the honesty of the person we’re talking to.  In interviews where people are sitting across from each other and feelings are faked, you can hear the conversation fall like a cinder block into a cow pasture.

You can only pull off false sincerity if nobody can see you (though, political campaigns would seem to contradict this).  That’s different from a conversation that both people are clearly enjoying.  There, you can hear the goodwill and the smiles are not fake.  I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about the other thing; a solo announcer talking to and trying to somehow sway, the coveted “you”.

Talking through smiles and stutter laughs are two tools people behind microphones use to connect with you.  And most likely, they use them so well, you hardly notice because they’re designed to set you at ease, not raise your awareness.  These people don’t know you, but they want you to feel like they do (or would want to).  Because in the world of broadcasting, where a successful connection means money or feet on the street, that’s good enough.

Written by Interviewer

March 22, 2016 at 05:14

Fake

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Fake

Sometimes, you hear it in the voice of the interviewer.  Fake laughing, fake surprise, fake incredulity, fake interest, fake sincerity.  And you know it’s fake because it sounds like stink smells and there’s never any question about stink.

You rarely hear fake in the voice of the interviewee, since it’s the interviewer’s job, in part, to keep the interviewee off balance and thus, by keeping them off balance, that can help keep them honest.  Usually, when an interviewee is answering a question, they are speaking off the cuff about something they should know well and that tends to lead to honesty.  That, along with the fact that a good interviewer has probably fact checked the hell out of them before they got there and will challenge them on untruths.

But also, with interviewees, you may hear a lie, but not them being fake, since interviewees who are not being truthful probably believe the untruths they’re telling more than they realize.

Interviewers though, silver tongued devils that they are, use a number of verbal gadgets to move the conversation along.  I’ve talked about some of them in this blog.  I’m sure a lot of people consider a forced laugh or a breathy “really!” pretty harmless if it breaks down social barriers.  But when I hear that too often from someone who wears the mantel of journalistic credibility when in fact, they are essentially sleepwalking through the conversation, I don’t see how they can expect openness or revelation from the interviewee or respect from the audience.

At the same time, questions can’t sound like they’re being asked by IBM’s Watson.  There should be energy and enthusiasm in the questions because there is energy and enthusiasm in the questioner.

It’s a hard line to walk, especially since it has been proven that occasionally mimicking a guest’s facial expression, tone of voice or body language makes them feel more comfortable and thus, more willing open up.  Its a truth about human nature we have to first learn, then have to learn to not overuse to the point of creepy or insincere.

A lot of the techniques interviewers use are legitimate and sometimes, necessary.  But fake shouldn’t be one of them.

When I hear fake, I think, “How do you still have a job?”

Written by Interviewer

February 21, 2015 at 06:28

When a Laugh is not a Laugh

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Image

This is a quickie.

I’ve talked before about how an interviewer has to be careful sometimes in sharing a laugh with an interviewee.  Laughing can make people seem connected to an idea more so than many other ways people interact.  Sometimes, an interviewer can’t afford to have an audience think they have a particular bent.

But this is about the interviewee’s laugh and not in a good way.  Of course laughter can be natural, fun, disarming.  It is one of the primary ways we connect.  But sometimes, a laugh is an anthropological proxy for something very different.  In some cases, a laugh says that the interviewee is nervous and they are trying to draw the interviewer into the interviewee’s artificial mood so that they can feel more in control of the situation.

Sometimes, a laugh is intended to dismiss, as when an interviewer asks a question and before the question is out, the interviewee is laughing in a way that clearly says, “That’s a ridiculous question”, followed up by something that isn’t a direct affront but sounds passive aggressive or patronizing.

And sometimes, the laugh is a disguise for aggression.  We’ve all seen it.  The conversation that is held behind gritted teeth because to scowl or grimace or bear teeth without the upturned corners of the mouth might jeopardize what the laugher is trying to achieve.  It might be working their way out of an uncomfortable situtation for which they have much embarassment and no appreciation.  Or it could be dealing with someone they dislike or fear but dare not be obvious about it.  Or it could be interacting with someone for whom they have no respect.

There are a lot of interpersonal dynamics in play during an interview.  The interviewer’s job is to keep his in check and not be drawn in by any play on the his ego by the interviewee’s ego.  This includes the seemingly harmless but potentially crippling use of laughter.  I’ve said it before, but it’s important for the interviewer to be nothing but a mirror to the interviewee.  In that way, they lose any ability to manipulate and are left to just answer the question.

Written by Interviewer

April 28, 2014 at 14:23