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Rider’s 4 Pillars Of A Great Interview

“The goal of every interview should be to leave the audience wanting more and the guest wanting to come back.”

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Before becoming one of the most recognizable voices in commercials, trailers, and radio imaging, Mark Rider spent more than 20 years as a morning show host. During that time, he interviewed celebrities and newsmakers from all walks of life.

In this guest piece for Barrett Sports Media, Rider shares his “4 Pillars of a Great Interview.” They are focused on getting the most entertaining content out of guest interaction. Enjoy!

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Interviewing sports celebrities is something that the majority of program directors have never done. I would even argue that for most just the thought of having to do an interview on-air, live is stomach twistingly terrifying. So without any real hands on experience how are you, Mr. Program Director, supposed to coach and develop your talent into being great at it? Now I don’t mean to discount all the people you have interviewed over the years but that was for hiring purposes not for entertainment purposes.  It’s different and it takes a certain level of courage and commitment that alludes most talent. The good news is that interviewing skills and habits can absolutely be honed and continue to improve as long as the talent are challenged to do so in a positive and nurturing environment that rewards their effort.  

As a former 20 year major market morning host who loved everything about interviewing let me share a few ways of crafting the perfect interview that will help your talent extract original content from their guests that nobody else in town will get.  

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First let’s dissect the mentality of the interview.  Most of the time talent looks at an interview as something finite with a beginning and an end.  I would encourage them to look at it from a more perpetual perspective. If done thoughtfully the best interview can actually go on for months or even years as the talent creates a lasting relationship and rapport with their guest. The goal of every interview should be to leave the audience wanting more and the guest wanting to come back.  

So how does your talent achieve this?  By setting themselves up for the win first and stacking the deck in their favor before anyone even sits down to play the hand. That is done by properly using what I call the “4 pillars of a great interview.” They are prepping, scripting, listening and deviating.

Notice that “winging” it or just “shooting the shit,” is not part of “the 4 pillars of great interviewing.” Larry King, Oprah and David Letterman would never wing it. Your talent must understand that neither can they. If they don’t accept that part of the job description is prepping then they are never going to be great at interviewing and ratings will suffer. And although a producer can definitely help with this process, I firmly believe that the host really needs to do the majority of the heavy lifting on their own to truly be the best.

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Prepping is tedious and not all that fun but without question is the backbone of the interview and today it is easier than ever.  Many of the guests have IMDB pages, Wiki pages, fan pages, as well as their own websites and of course all their social media feeds.  These places are where you go to begin to get to know your guest. Sure there might be some stuff going on in the news about their organization that you should school yourself on, but mostly you need to learn who they are. 

What makes them tick? What interests do you have in common that you can use to connect with them? Some of the best questions I ever came up with were based on things the guest had tweeted about in the last few days.  Why? Because on a radio show they aren’t limited to 280 characters and if they tweeted about somebody keying their car you damn sure know they are going to want to blow off some steam talking about it on your show. Or let’s say they tweeted a picture of them and one of their teammates playing golf last weekend.  Just that picture alone can generate a ton of talk finding out how many balls they lost and whose the better golfer?

Prepping is only part of pre-interview work that must be done.  Next they need to take all the intel gathered and put it into an organized list of well thought out questions.  I like to put my questions into different categories like “Getting to know them,” “getting down to business,” or “getting something out of them.”  

Of course depending on how long you have for the segment will determine how many questions you will need in each category but I would safely say that for a 10 minute segment it would be good to have 3 or 4 questions per category.  And it’s very important that all the questions be open ended so that the guest feels at ease to talk. Here is an example of a closed ended question. “I saw that tweet of your new ride. Is that a Porsche 911?” The only way a guest can answer that question is by saying “Yes it is,” and then some awkward silence not really knowing what you’re getting at.  Now here is an example of the same question asked with an open ending. “Congrats on the new ride. I saw that pic on Instagram. Why don’t you tell us about your new baby?”

See how that just opens the flood gate of possible dialogue?

When a host properly preps and scripts there is a certain sense of command that will make the rest of the ride easy and at this point all they need to do is sit back and listen. 

Listening to what and how the guest is answering questions is equally as important as all of the prep you have done to this point. Are they excited and amped to be on, or are they more quiet and reserved? Have them rely on their producer to find out so they can match the tone at the beginning of the interview, so that it starts off with a vibe that connects the host and guest together as opposed to putting the guest on his back foot.

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Great listening skills are what breed most of the magical moments of an amazing interview. Here’s the secret: the magic usually comes from the follow up questions. 

Let’s say the guest is talking about that sweet new ride of his and mentions that it is without question the fastest car he’s ever driven.  Well the host could use this opportunity to see how much he wants to play and lean into that microphone with a soft whisper and follow up with “between you and me, how fast you taken it to so far?”  

It’s in moments like this that your host is getting something out of that guest that nobody else in town has. That makes people tune in longer, come back for more and improve your hosts audience appeal.

The last of the Four Pillars of Interviewing is deviating which means to not be afraid to go off script and go where the guest wants to take you.  Let’s say your guest says “Believe it or not I haven’t gone over 75 yet because the dealer told me I can’t till I get to 500 miles.” After having a good laugh about that and deviating from the script my next question would be “Fastest you’ve ever been in a car and who was it that was driving?” And you’ll be able to tell right away if the guest wants to play and have fun with that topic based on their reaction. The best part is that if they don’t, you can just fall back to the questions you’ve prepped. Never take a guest too far down a road they don’t want to go which is why listening is such an important skill to have and to be laser focused on during the interview. Never get lazy during the interview.

Two more things. Interviewers should be encouraged to not hide behind the mic.  Some of the most memorable interviews I’ve done over the years didn’t take place in a studio or over a phone patch.  

The day after a big game for the Kansas City Chiefs when I was doing mornings at 101 The Fox, I would actually meet up with the limo that was going to pick up a marquee player, go pick them up at their house and while riding with them to their weekly tv appearance interview them on a little handheld recorder.  The conversations were as real as they get coming just after a game and them just leaving the sanctuary of their own home. Instead of being defensive and nervous these guys were calm and fun and genuine because you made it so easy for them to be.  

In Minneapolis I would do the majority of my interviews with Twins players either in the dug out or on field before or after a game where we could just talk shop and they didnt have to do anything but hang out.  They didn’t have to clean up and go to a studio or make a special trip down to their media directors office. I went out of my way to make it easy for them to want to contribute to my show because at the end of the day that is what they are doing.  You really aren’t doing them the favor that they are doing for you.  

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Lastly, the best time of year to establish relationships is in the off season when the pressure isn’t on the players as much.  Encourage and be willing to facilitate trips for your talent to visit training camp or spring training as it’s the best opportunity to get some real face time with veterans and create new friendships with rookies who might turn into marquee players.  I will always remember meeting a shy Maurice Jones Drew at Jacksonville Jaguar’s OTA’s. The kid ended up being a 3 time pro bowler! Because of the time I invested in getting to know him in his early days when my intern made a rude comment suggesting that catching an NFL punt was “easy,” I asked Drew if he’d go up against the intern in a punt catching contest and he said yes!

Talk about memorable on-air moments.  It directly came because of the investment I made in relying on my “4 pillars of great Interviewing.”

Rider is promo and commercial voice working daily with NBC sports NHL and Supercross, CBS sports Monday QB and 4 Sides of the story, Fox Sports North/Wisconsin, the PBR tour, Tampa Bay Lightning& Texas Rangers as well as voicing ESPN 630 Washington D.C, the Shark Miami and many others. Listen to his work at www.ridervo.com and to book him for your next project contact Nate Zeitz at NZeitz@cesdtalent.com.

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For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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