Wednesday, May 14, 2008

To a blind horse

In the previous post somebody picked up on the point about radio presenters nodding when they interview you. It's remarkable what a key part of the broadcasting skill set nodding can be. In daily life they would you say "yes" or "uh huh". On the radio they have to use body language to do two things:
1. Get you talking.
2. Shut you up.
I have to turn off the Today Programme when I hear a "civilian" being interviewed because I know that by the time the interviewer has managed to get them talking it'll be time to shut them up, often with embarrassing abruptness.
Hence a fairly experienced hack like me knows that my main job is to start talking straightaway and keep going, while looking out for the tell-tale tics that indicate that the presenter either wants to move me on to another point or terminate the thing with something that could be passed off as an ending.
If it's a programme I'm used to doing, like "Front Row", they will tell me how long the item is and what illustrations they want me to cue. In such cases both the presenter and I are looking over each other's shoulders at the clocks behind us rather than at each other. If it's night time radio where you have generally been brought on to give the presenter a little thinking time, once they fling you a question you keep that answer going until it looks as if he's stopped taking instructions from the producer in their headphones and is ready to rejoin the conversation.
Of course none of this works if it's a phone interview. In that case you have to listen out for the strangulated vocal noises that indicates that they might want to cut in. Either that or the dead line that announces that they've already dropped your fader.


  1. There is a real skill to it. We've had to edit filmed interviews with doctors and specialists, actors and various film and TV people.

    When we haven't had control of asking the questions there has been problems with the interviewer "uh huh"-ing at times. In one instance the interviewer had turned interview into a conversation and her voice was all over the audio.

    I was taught interview technique by Chris Cook, and there have been times when I feel like my face is going top split open from the smiling or my head is going to come loose from my neck with all the nodding.

    Which is probably why, watching the Mark Lawson interviews on BBC4 always makes me smile.

  2. Simpler to just whack the table, like Joan Bakewell. I saw John Peel on a short-lived BBC2 discussion programme hosted by Joan. It was just the two of them discussing the news of the day and Peely was in full flow when Bakewell suddenly slammed her hand down on the table. John stopped, as you would, and Joan calmly said something like 'well, indeed, thank you...'