I’ve been on both sides of the interview table for 30 years. I thought I was beyond being flustered.
But a few days ago, a junior communications major turned me into a babbling idiot.
The TV club member asked me if I do an interview about the podcasting program I created a few years ago. I said I’d be happy to.
I went up to the TV studio, sat down, endured the hot lights and smiled at the nice girl who tried several times to attach the lav mic to my lapel.
I enjoyed the moment, a studio buzzing with students full of energy and a little giddy with the excitement of working cameras, directing, interviewing.
I knew Ashley, my interviewer, a little. I had done a podcast with her two years ago. As a first semester freshman, she was ready to drop out when a friend insisted she go to a meeting of the campus radio station. She did, fell in love with communications and stayed in school.
Now she was interviewing me. I glanced at the teleprompter and scanned the intro and a few of her questions.
I sat quietly. I’ve done enough interviews and productions to know that you don’t know when you’re being recorded and all the unconscious moves like jiggling your knee, wiping your nose, gazing wildly around, make you look like an idiot, and with digital technology it can be around forever.
Finally we were ready. I did a sound check and they began rolling. Ashley asked me how I got into public relations. I told her, talking directly to her in a conversational voice. I could see she wasn’t with me.
She was thinking of something else.
When I finished she nodded. “What do you like most about your job?”
Standard question. I answered, talking to her in a conversational tone, seeing that I wasn’t really engaging her. She was staring over my shoulder at the monitor.
“What’s the most memorable thing that happened to you during a podcast?” She asked vacantly.
I related a story and as I talked, I noticed her trying to communicate silently, her face showing panic. She moved her hands up and down and shook her head. Something was happening and it had all her attention.
And for the first time ever, I forgot what I was saying and where I was going.
My voice trailed off as I realized that I was sounding like a blundering dolt.
“Sorry,” I said. “I was watching you and totally lost my train of thought.”
She nodded and asked me the next question, but the energy was gone, the concentration shattered, my answers as exciting as oatmeal.
When it was over, I turned to her and the camera crew. “Okay, tell me what was happening?”
Ashley shook her head. “The teleprompter, the word were backwards and upside down. I freaked out because I didn’t know what the next question was and if I didn’t ask them in order they wouldn’t make sense!” She thought a moment. “I guess I need to work on my impromptu. Or maybe I should stick with radio.”
“This is going to be edited, right?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Then everything will be okay.”
It was a good (and humbling) lesson which led me to some of the really simple secrets of interviewing which I’ll talk about in the next post.