by Tracy Johnson
Interviews are one of the most difficult of all skills for radio shows to master. Some personalities are naturally good at it, while others should simply stay away from guests-almost always! It may not turn you into Barbara Walters or Howard Stern, but here are 3 techniques that can turbo charge interview results.
Each of these techniques is easy to learn, and can be applied almost immediately with just a little practice. At first, it might feel a little awkward, but this is only because you know what you’re doing, and why.
Practice each technique a few times and it’ll feel more natural. As you get better with the techniques, it’ll soon be comfortable and easy.
Each of these techniques is derived from the excellent book, Never Split the Difference. It’s the story of an FBI hostage negotiator who shares the techniques he’s developed in drawing out a subject in hostage situations.
This technique is so easy, it feels like cheating. Mirroring works like a charm for nearly everyone. This is one of the quickest ways to establish a rapport and make your counterpart feel safe enough to reveal themselves. The beauty in this is the simplicity.
Mirroring slows the conversation just enough to get your guest past the standard answers they’ve given a million times before.
It’s the practice of repeating what the guest has just said. That’s it. When you trigger a mirroring response, your counterpart will automatically elaborate on what was just said. They almost always continue into a deeper explanation of what they’re talking about. This opens them up, taking them beyond the surface and into far more interesting and descriptive conversation.
For example, let’s say you’re talking to a professional athlete. You ask:
When did you know you had the talent to play football as a profession?
Your guest has answered this question so many times, it’s become an automatic response. They say something like:
In High School, the University was scouting our running back, and came to the State Championship game. Our back got hurt in the first quarter, and we had to change the game plan and start passing more in the second half. I threw three touchdown passes and we won the championship. After the game, the coach said the school wanted to meet with me. We hit it off, and I knew from that day on, there was a chance that I could do this.
Asked and answered. Most personalities would accept that answer and move on to the next question in the interview. But mirroring one small thing they said would keep them talking and take them deeper into the conversation:
You threw three touchdown passes in the state championship?
You’ve mirrored one thing that was said, and the guest will take that cue and go into more detail about that performance. It doesn’t even have to be a question. Just say it in an inquisitive tone. Then shut up. They will say it again in different words.
Labeling is a little trickier than mirroring, but equally effective. Instead of repetition, use intuition to make a connection and encourage more details. The mirroring and labeling techniques often work well when paired.
Labeling is summarizing what the guest has said, using different words. It’s the art of expressing empathy, which will draw out more reaction.
Firing off a series of questions can come off as aggressive. This causes your subject discomfort and they tend to close up or revert to practiced answers that protect them from the stress.
If you can put a label on a feeling or emotion based on one of their answers, you can get a glimpse into what is happening in their world. They will automatically lower their defenses and feel a bond with you.
Great interviewers like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres are terrific at this technique.
Here’s an example of labeling:
It seems like this is the moment you had to reach deep inside to find that something to inspire your team when they needed you.
See how this response encourages the quarterback to talk about his emotions and what drives him? This is beyond the surface questions they’re asked every day and has the potential of providing some insight that really connects.
When you label, try and avoid the use of the word, “I.” Statements like “it seems like,” “it sounds like,” “it looks like,” all show that you are more interested in them than yourself. This is always a good practice all the time, but it’s especially relevant in interviews.
Another useful tactic is to label the guest’s comment, but deliberately get it slightly wrong. Of course you don’t want to be so off-base that it’s obvious or embarrassing to you or the guest. But getting something just a little wrong can bring about a more interesting response. This works with listeners, phone topics and guests.
This will cause them to correct you. In our example, you could say something like,
It sounds like you didn’t think you had a future in football until that moment.
This comment obviously takes the conversation in a different direction. Your guest will correct this misperception, by talking about how he played before that game. This tactic is a little tricky to do well, but also has the potential to take you deeper into the conversation.
Interviewers are so focused on what they’ll say next or what questions they want to get to, they miss opportunities that happen in nearly every response.
Each of these techniques will turbo charge interview results, but the value extends to more aspects of show performance. Apply the same tactics in conversations with co-hosts, calls with listeners and even in personal relationships off the air. You won’t believe how it can open the line of communications. You’ll attract more and better responses and come off as more attentive, engaging and likable. Maybe it can even save your relationship!
When you combine them in the same segment, you’ll be amazed at how guests open up with more interesting content than you ever imagined.
Try them out and let me know how they work for you.
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