Fear is the Mindkiller
May 2, 2011 6:06 AM   Subscribe

I am a reporter. How do I become a braver interviewer?

I work for a radio news organization, and while I don't often have to, I occasionally do on-the-street interviews. Unlike interviewing, say, an expert in their field (something I do several times a week), vox pop interviews make me incredibly anxious. I am always incredibly hesitant approaching people, and I feel like I trip over my words and have a hard time asking good questions.

I think I'm reasonably confident and articulate when I do interviews in studio or over the phone. Why do I have so much trouble with interviewing people on the street, and how to I psych myself into being less afraid?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it applies for voxpop, but when I've been interviewed or coached others and watched, I've noticed that good TV and radio interviewers always do a sort of three or four step setup, starting from a very tame/easy question, then narrowing and narrowing, until the last question is a hard edge that can't easily be backed away from, since it follows "naturally" from the others that were already answered.

So to apply that to the street, if there are real question you need answered that you have a hard time asking point blank, work back from that until you have designed two or three softer 'setup' questions or topics that are easy for you to approach people with. Bonus points if they're also disarming for the interviewee.

"Hi, what do you think about this weather?"
"It's great!"
"Have you noticed it's been getting colder every year?"
"Yeah, kinda."
"So do agree that Al Gore is responsible for the bad weather lately?"

posted by rokusan at 6:10 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I assume from your wording that you are a TV/radio journalist, but a freelance writer/blogger for Forbes.com recently did a sort of meta-blog about an article she was writing. A lot of what she had to say was about self-confidence in approaching people. I am sure there is plenty in there that equally applies to your field.

Check it out here.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:14 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've done a zillion man on the streets. I start with low-hanging fruit--the kid or granny who's dying to be on TV. Having bagged one, the nect one is easier, and then I can start picking and choosing. It's a con game--I'm giving them my confidence and they, in turn, feel emboldened to give me their time and opinion.
Dress well, (something red is good)' wear comfortable shoes, stand up straight, and don't look all humble, don't act like you're wasting their time, speak clearly. And get them to sign the release.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:52 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Next, not nect.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:53 AM on May 2, 2011

I think the less formal interviews are harder and scarier because there's so much less clarity/context for the conversation. When you're interviewing an expert, there's an understanding of roles and a shared mission for the interview. With random people off the street, there's none of that, and that's much more difficult.

If you can find a way to think of it as a shared experience, and they just don't know about it yet, that might help you write your part of the script, whose goal is to get them on board and working together.

Strangers are scary, but people are awesome.
posted by rosa at 7:10 AM on May 2, 2011

I think preparation is key. If you've got good questions in mind, or even on paper, then you'll feel much more confident during the approach.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:40 AM on May 2, 2011

Take improv classes! I take classes at Second City in toronto, and one of my classmates has your exact job, and took the class for the same reasons.

Improv really trains you on how to be comfortable and confident in the absence of the ability to plan or practice - 'confidence in sponteneity', if you will. (Its not at all about training people to be funny.)
posted by Kololo at 12:04 PM on May 2, 2011

I've been approached for these a few times.

"Hey, are you at the back of the line?" Yes. "Lot of people here today, huh? Listen, I work for the $newspaper and I'm here talking to people about the big $event today - would you mind if I just ask you a few quick questions? Great, so, why did you come out today? Awesome, by the way can I get your name? how's that spelled? age? And, $name, what's the best thing you've seen out here today? Terrific, that's great, and where did you say you lived? Great, boy must have been a drive huh? How long was it? Wow, yeah. How long have you been waiting in line here (etc)"

"Hi there - hi there, excuse me folks. Hi, I'm $name with $TV station and I'm talking to people tonight to get their feelings on a big issue. Do you have just a minute, we've very concerned that everyone's voices get heard. Did you guys hear about $today's development? (One sentence recap) So, what would you say about that decision - is that a positive thing or negative? Great great, yeah, and... would you say that $state should move in that direction too? Oh terrific, that's great, what a clear answer, so where are you guys from? Oh yeah? Pretty out there. What are your names, just let me get this down, great great, and what do you do for a living? Oh yeah, [etc]"

Basically, quite short, maybe 4 or 5 key questions, and the questions start off general and move toward the narrative the reporter is trying to establish. Especially with the issue question, the reporter had a very clear idea of what side of the issue he wanted us to come down on (picked us because we looked like we would answer in the correct way), and his questions were fairly leading, which I haven't done a good job replicating here.

The initial solicitation is fairly firm and smiley (not taking a casual brush-off hint), and talks about "talking to people about x" or "hearing people's voices". In both cases we were at least one or two questions in before they asked for our names, and the other info they collected from us (age, job, hometown, etc) came out in dribs and drabs, interspersed with conversation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:11 PM on May 2, 2011

The dreaded vox pop... Ugh. LobsterMitten has the right approach -- just be very friendly, seem like it's casual and low-pressure to put people at their ease.

Don't ask them if they have the time, because it makes it seem like you'll take ages and they'll say "oh, I'm on my way somewhere". Just cut straight to the punch: Hi, I'm Anon from Anon News, we're doing a story on Major Event and we want to know what you think of Major Player's latest scandal...

Try and ask leading questions (of course) and you'll be amazed how much info you can get out of people in 30 seconds.

And remember, if one person clams up, you've only lost a minute or two of your time and there will always be someone else just down the street who will give you what you need. Like with everything, practice makes perfect, and the more confident you seem, the more authoritarian and professional you'll come across -- and the more people will respond to you.
posted by indienial at 4:17 AM on May 3, 2011

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