Thursday, June 16, 2005

Interviewing Notes

It's the bread and butter of broadcast journalism, and a mainstay of industrial media. But how hard is it to conduct a really satisfactory interivew, one that is spontaneous, rich? Actually interviewing is a common social skill…a part of our inquisitive human nature…and a big part of narrative storytelling.

Even the driest industrial can be put across with a good story.

Stories are how we structure our life experience,converting it into memory. Stories are what make things memorable, hence interesting to others. Joyce Carol Oates: "We live by stories"
Stories can only come from people.
Interviewer styles: the contrarian, the empathizer, the seeker, and the naïve

History and Range of the Art
The Socratic method…the premise that the material is in there already, the dialectical process reveals it: thesis, antihesis, synthesis. Dialectic is conversation. Nature is in constant motion. Movement intrigues us, makes us an audience. Mere explication, description (the stuff of 90% of corporate and industrial communications) is static. How do we get movement? Only by following a statement with its contradiction do you get movement. The movement from conflict to resolution. Movement is what makes for drama. That is why we find stories more interesting than platitudes and interviews more interesting than mere exposition.

We can say; "love is a force more powerful than even the desire to live"; a platitude.
Or we can tell the story of Romeo and Juliet. It is interesting to hear the story because it reveals its ultimate truth through conflicts(middle) established in an ititial set of conditions (the beginning), and movement toward the conclusion (end). The story is utterly convincing because it seems so necessary to end as it does.
It lets us form the platitude ourselves.

We can make a presentation. We can make statements establishing or asserting one or more points of meaning. The art of making these assertions interesting comes down to this: making the necessity of each point of meaning clear.We do that through conversation.

We can say: "Apex makes the best widgets".
Or we can ask, "who makes the best widgets? first.
To raise the ante, we can follow up the assertion thus:
"How do you know Apex makes the best?"
We are off and running.

This is the heart of rhetoric. Assertion. Challenge. Resolution. Thesis antithesis, synthesis. Movement. We use inquiry to stimulate proof.

The heart of a good story is the neccesity of its resolution. Egri says:

The origin of the sound byte
Robert Siegel on the radio interview. Illusion of a conversation.
This book is mainly about interviewing for actualities: Standard industrial videos typically use actualities, not a true interview. Second type is used by the big stars--Charlie Rose--whose personality and on-camera presence is considered an asset. This is rare in industrial and corporate work, where anonymity is the rule.

Edward Be Bono talks about role-playing specific thinking styles, Red Hat: emotional, White hat :factual, green hat :creative and so on. He suggests that thinking can be more productive through some "playacting". The same is true of you in the interview. You are role-playing being thoughtful in a particular way. Your manner of acting and asking questions can role model how your subject is to respond.

The emerging importance of the video-based interview as a tool of corporate and institutional knowledge management is also a basis for this book.
Eliciting material in the standard industrial interview'
We seek hot tape or hot footage: the material that grabs the viewers attention and makes even the most instructional material come to life.
Find out all you can about the person you are going to interview. Note their line of work, family and any special facts or recent history that may help you establish rapport, or which later in the interview can help you elicit relevant and heartfelt material.
Eliciting 15-25 seconds of quote

You can't step on an actuality. Learn to hold off speaking or making noise for a good second or two after you are certain the subject is finished. If your subject steps on your line, excuse yourseldf and restart them.

Remember. You are here to elicit knowledge You are helping to capture the knowledge and experience,of one individual and make it hereafter accessible to an audience. You are engaging in a subtle dance of question and answer, probe and revelation, your part of which, will lie forever in the background, but is for the moment at least, absolutely crucial. . It no small role, but it's not a starring one.
Your stuff goes on the "cutting room floor". Use short, simple questions that provoke a response --think of your questions as stimuli only. You may say "what happened next" fifty times, just to pull the story out.
Siegel also mentions the strawman technique for asking "the high hard one" the provocative question. In our work though, we seldom are looking for "hot" or controversial material. A variant of the straw man may be useful however, one in which we set up a proposition intentionally contrary to the desired response:
Ask for a Definition. If you ask, "What are the qualities of a good den leader?" You are very likely to get a response that begins with oneo or more adjectives, like.."patient" or skilled". If you ask "What is your definition of a good den leader?" nine time sout of ten, your subject will begin with the phrase "A good den leader is…"This is a more subtle technique that it may seem. It's an obvious way to cover material that is definitinal subject matter. But it can elicit feeling statements even stories as well. "What's your definition of a really bad meeting? Or "What's your definition of a great one?".
Ask the Dozing Psychiatrist's Question. You may very well completely forget what your subject is talking about. Or, you may feel unsatisfied with the respnse. Your subject ends with the phrase. …makes a trip to the office not just unpleasant but awful.
The Blank, Silent Stare: Not as relevant for the industrial, but may help. WAIT. Don't automatically accept the question as answered. At the end of the subjects' response, you may feel there is more to be said. Send a look that says "there's more, I'm sure…."
Don't bother trying to sound intelligent or profound.
Good story telling is rare, a gift not all have. How to get stories from non-story-tellers. (see Art of Storytelling)
What constitutes a good story…shaggy doggin' it.
How speakers think. The nature of narrative.
Probing technique…good probe questions, hypotheticals "some would say shoot all the lawyers..What do you say?"
Some people's minds are like their sock drawers….
Keeping your subject focused…the finish this sentence game
Avoiding abstractions…keeping subject matter concrete
Are women better interviewers? Some experts suggest they are(Brooking), if only becuas ethey are percieved by both men an women as less threatening. My belief is that anyone who is respectful and reaonable intellgient can be a succewssful intervieer id well prepared and partient.
Working with kids
Working with kids. Using props and repetitive actions to decrease self-awareness.
Working with politicians and other deceptive and evasive subjects
Working with fearful and nervous subjects

Editing the interview
Power of paper transcripts…using court reporters.
Sentence continuation editing.
Word salad edits….re-structuring ideas and imposing dramatic arc (see Egri)
Preparation: editorial, technical, and psychological.

From Siegel:
"Before you start, know what you are after".
Take Charge
Social distance…. comfort varies
Establishing rapport
Eye contact

Establishing Rapport with Your Subject
Pre-interview smalltalk…establish a pattern of more than one word answers
In our media-savvy culture, people are familiar with the conventions of taking audio levels, etc. They may begin by saying "testing, 123, etc. We need break out of this stereotype right away if we are going to get genuine stuff, not a stylized or affected persona. When ask for a voice level..Ask about their most recent meal (Siegel)

Keeping sound bytes short
How to get your subject to re-state the topic (putting a head on it)
Closing down run-on bytes…clustered thoughts and sentences
One-liner responses …"the world's a better place w/out him" (as to say, do you agree?)
Setting up the interview
The interview space
Lighting for the interview
Using the monitor
Eye contact Shooting at eye level, your body language.
Framing/composing the subject
Backgrounds, video voodoo, and green screen technique
Running your crew..
Maintaining control of the set and the process at all times

Practicing the story beforehand, eliciting the one-line story from a subject

Sound Reporting
Marcus D. Rosebaum and John Dinges, ed.
Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. 1992
ISBN 0-8403-7202-7

Six Thinking Hats,
Edward De Bono
Little, Brown and Co. 1985
ISBN 0-316-17791-1

The Art of Investigative Interviewing

Basic Interviewing

On Narrative

Corporate Memory
Anne Brooking
International Thomson Business Press
ISBN 1-86152-268-1