Be a good listener

Be a good listener

Last week I went along to the launch of the Women in Media Canberra chapter at the National Press Club in Canberra. The room was full of media types from all walks of life including National Press Gallery journalists and staff, Minister’s media advisors, government communication and media representatives and independent consultants.

We all mingled, laughed and reflected; some of us not having seen each other for a very long time.

I was talking to a couple of friends when this gorgeous lady walked up with the line – “I’ve been told I need to network…”

Her face was warm and sincere, and she was obviously enjoying the opportunity to meet new people and chat about her obvious love of her craft.

Her name was Caroline Jones.

Caroline Jones AO is a well-known, highly respected Australian television journalist and social commentator. She first joined the ABC in 1963 and later became the first female reporter for This Day Tonight. She then became a Four Corners presenter from 1972 to 1981, then from 1987 to 1994 she presented a spiritually-focused radio program called The Search For Meaning on ABC Radio National, on which people told the stories of their lives.

Since 1996 she has presented the weekly biographical program Australian Story on the ABC, and she still fills our screens with a style and grace that only comes from years of experience.

Meeting her in person was a privilege and her speech further confirmed her ability to be undeniably real, funny and engaging.

She stood in an informal setting and filled us with her wisdom on how she got to where she is today and some of the things she said made me reflect on what it takes to be a good interviewer.

A lot of the content we produce here at contentgroup is based on recorded interviews with subject matter experts. We do the interviews in our purpose built studio or on location, and they generally take about 30 minutes.

The point of difference for us is that we’re not the media; we’re not primarily looking to make the front page; we’re telling stories to inform and engage an audience who sometimes know little about the subject.

Here are some tips that I use when I’m interviewing someone who hasn’t been in front of a camera before:

  • Have a Plan – Devise your line of questioning from key messages provided by your client. For a 2 – 3 minute story I always ask the client for 6 key messages (as a guide). I then turn these into a series of questions for the client to approve.
  • Do your Research before the Interview – Make sure you have a good idea of who you’re talking to. Access a biography and where possible, call the talent and have a conversation. It doesn’t hurt either to do some research on Google (though be careful not to treat it as gospel).
  • Make them feel comfortable – it’s alright for me, I’m sitting behind the camera… but it can be very daunting for the talent. They’re under lights in a proper broadcast studio, and Ben our cameraman is staring at them through the lens. They need to feel at ease and comfortable, and they need to trust you to guide them through. I always ask about them – their personal circumstance, how they got into the job, background etc. Just to balance it up I also add in some anecdotes about myself and I tell them to pretend we’re in a café and we’re having a coffee (…a little hard when the lights are beaming down and I’m applying translucent powder to their face).
  • Jot some notes down – In that personal conversation before the interview I’ll make some quick notes to prompt me during the interview… they’ve just given me their own personal biography – perfect for framing the conversation.
  • Be personal – Always add in some personal questions: How did you come to work there? What do you love about your job? And how does it make you feel to be involved in such an exciting project? These personal responses make all the difference in conveying a strong sense of emotion for the audience.
  • And Listen – Listen hard… Though your questions may be necessary, listen to what they’re telling you. And steer the interview through ‘what they know…’ not ‘what you know…’ You will get the best responses when your talent are talking about themselves, and their experience will speak for itself.

Caroline Jones AO cemented this last tip.

Good listening is a skill we all need to have.

So listen well, and you will enjoy hearing and sharing great stories from great people.

Image: Ky


Each week a staff member puts pen to paper to write about an aspect of content communication that speaks to them, and hopefully, informs you. This is a space where our passion for writing, learning and sharing information comes to shine.

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