How does one open their guest?

Interviews are an art of their own. Experience is the best teacher.

Even the best questions ring silent - if the host isn’t listening.

I have worked for many television and radio newsrooms. Observing colleagues throughout their shows’ opening. Many would review their notes until the last moment before assuming a serious pose, to underline their professionalism. Few of them used their time for the simplest task of all – conversing with the guest.

Of course, when reading this, you may ask yourself: “What use is there to converse with guests before the actual taping?”. Indeed, preparing oneself instead may seem logical. Nevertheless, my attention is undoubtedly drawn to the speaker.

Our subject is unlikely to be a veteran of the limelight, or any media. The lights, soundproofing, bells, and whistles are enough to intimidate anyone. After all, this isn’t a natural setting. With this said, should this person be left alone? Absolutely not. 

STRESS BEFORE THE INTERVIEW EVEN BY MEDIA OUTLOOKERS

Oprah Winfrey, one of the world’s most prolific talk-show hosts identified a certain paradox. Her 40,000 interviews spanned a 30-year career that included lottery winners, crime victims, and superstars such as Beyonce and Barack Obama. “Every single person, regardless of status, would sheepishly ask ‘How did I do?’. Each guest should feel listened to, understood, and appreciated” – remarks Winfrey.

Therefore, when preparing for the interview, I do not write down the questions. Instead, I create a memory portrait of my upcoming guest. I seek out information about them and search the farthest corners of the internet. I also take care to contact known associates. Finally, I establish contact by calling, or suggesting a meeting. This way, the person identifies my intentions – a sincere desire to understand them. You can probably fathom my meaning: once you decide to make your candid discussion available to the wider public, you want it to be hosted by an ally.

My recipe for an effective interview – secret ingredients included.

Extracting information from a given individual’s achievements is only the tip of the iceberg. I take a step further. The critical question is: “Why?”. Why did this person wake at 4am for swimming practice each morning before school?” “Why did they place it all on one bet, by emigrating during the communist era?”. Or: “Why did they shun a lucrative career at a family business?”. When we understand someone’s situation, we gain a broader perspective of their intentions. That’s when we attain a deeper level of contact.

Everyone has their own gestures and mannerisms. Depending on the speaker, a word can take on many meanings. That’s why, when prepping for the interview, I seek out as many video materials as possible, in an effort to perfect my understanding of this person’s being. Perhaps they participated at a recorded conference? They may have even been interviewed, though years prior… There are countless moments adorned with distinct gestures that could have been easily misinterpreted, had I not met this individual before.

When preparing an interview for Helena Norowicz, I asked the organisers of the TEDx conference for the contact details of the actress and model, then in her eighties. To my surprise, I was given her landline phone number. I was taken aback at her willingness to speak to me, despite her busy schedule. After several minutes, we both knew something about each other. I had convinced Helena in that I would act as her partner during the interview, giving her the peace-of-mind for our upcoming discussion.

When I conduct an interview or discussion, I carry the responsibility of success of this adventure. I’m fully aware that my guest’s failure translates as my own. That’s why I take it upon myself to handle the most challenging aspects. A technical fault, for instance, is easily explained and resolved. Another situation could be pressing emotions on the part of the guest. It’s worth noting that sometimes, speakers can get confused. Bearing this in mind, I’m able to steer the conversation back on track.

During my first radio talk show, on American radio, the director asserted the most important item – the follow up question. These most naturally occur because of what the speaker has just said. Sometimes, brevity beats originality, it’s enough to ask, “What happened next?”, “Why did they do that?”, or “What did you have in mind?” As a host, you should have the courage to admit your misunderstandings. At times, that may be industry jargon, or something ambiguous, or mistakenly unimportant information. It’s likely that if you shed the light on these situations, you’ll be providing an information boost to the audience too. They’ll be grateful – albeit quietly and politely.

Avoid the causal approach. Nothing angers me more than a self-sabotage over one’s train of thought. That guest might be your friend, but must the audience listen to all your exploits out in the city? So don’t get too chummy with your guests, and never forget that the average audience member lacks the same level of knowledge as you do. If your esteemed speaker makes an inside joke, or specific biographical reference, then be sure to clarify it to the wider public. It’s also crucial to demonstrate control over your speaker and keep them on track with the right story – should they ever venture off-course.

What is crucial to carrying out an interview? The best can be said of the interviewees themselves:

Dear Maciej, I wanted to thank you so much for the interview.

This was a very important event for me and for my foundation. 😊 I am glad that I was able to share what I am doing, and on top of that, to carry it out in a dazzling studio atmosphere. You hold wonderful interviews, bringing a calm, inviting aura. It’s obvious from the beginning that you're doing it with passion – which solidifies your credibility. It was incredible to meet you. Again, thank you so much for your support.

Karolina Dudkowiak

I had a the most pleasant and professional conversation with you! You have the charm, and the grace too. You're a truly remarkable speaker.

Best regards,
Helena

Helena Norowicz, actress and model

You led this discussion superbly, and by being seated next to you, I experienced it twice. Tears of emotion came to me - both because of the speaker’s words and because of your extraordinary tact in accompanying the panellist. You were both emotive and equally charming.

Thank you

Victoria Iwanowska

CEO Mentor Early Warning

Thank you – you make a person totally at ease – unquestionably vital for a nervous guest’s TV debut. I'm in awe of your professionalism and good treatment of the speaker. Enormous gratitude for you!

Thanks, M

Frank Adams

Through your special ways, always armed with a smile and candidness - you seem to sail through anything. It’s why you’re brimming with authenticity and fascination.

Emilia Staszków