Make your interview questions knock ’em down

January 11, 2008
Roger Clemens, who was named in the Mitchell Report as a user of performance-enhancing drugs, appeared on ’60 Minutes’ last Sunday. That’s about as much sports as I can handle, but over at ESPN.com, journalism teacher/mentor John Sawatsky explains how 60 Minutes should have conducted the interview (the segment was pre-taped) and how interviewer Mike Wallace threw only softballs.

Successful interviews get people to go further than they planned to go, and rarely come from a planned list of questions, even when the questions are good ones. Interviewing does not work that way. It is a dynamic process involving two basic stages. Stage 1 is planned; Stage 2 exploits the moment that Stage 1 produces, whenever and however it occurs.

If Wallace has really put Clemens to the test, he did so using a strategy that ties his questions together so the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Rather than “confronting” Clemens, Wallace will have established some basic points of agreement. Accountability inevitably comes out of agreement, not fireworks. It’s the only practical way to get Clemens to open up and come clean. [Source]

The whole article is worth a read. As for more interviewing tips, I enjoyed former colleague Kevin Flowers‘ tip that he gave a roomful of starry-eyed interns at the Erie Times-News—”put ’em on the defensive.” The theory being that someone who feels they have something to prove are more likely to speak out of emotion rather than coolly reading a press statement.

Clemens was on 60 minutes last Sunday. You can read a transcript of how the interview actually went here.

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