Interviews Aren’t A Dance: Don’t Let The Reporter Lead
Wikipedia tells us that “in partner dancing, the two dancers are sometimes not equal. One takes the Lead and the other is the Follow.” As you might have expected, gender often plays a role:
“The Lead (conventionally the male in a mixed-sex couple) is responsible for choosing appropriate steps to suit the music (if it is an improvised dance), and leading the Follow by using subtle signals to complete the chosen steps smoothly and safely.”
The majority of interview subjects approach media interviews as a dance. In their view—conscious or not—the reporter leads the dance through his or her questioning while the interviewee gamely goes in whichever conversational direction the journalist decides.
But good media interviews are not a dance. You are equal to reporters—not a companion who follows their lead.
We see this dynamic in our training sessions often. We might begin with a short lecture about the importance of remaining on message—and for the first few practice interview questions we ask the trainees, they remember to transition back to their main points.
But within a few questions, they forget about their messages entirely and just start answering our questions. We, the reporters, are leading the dance again, and the trainee has abandoned their interview strategy entirely.
It’s easy to understand why that happens. In everyday conversation, we have a more natural give and take, with each party switching turns taking the lead and follow roles. If someone asks us a question, we answer the question.
But media interviews aren’t conversations. They are strategic forms of communication intended to reach and appeal to a specific target audience. Spokespersons who forget that—and who lapse back into conversation mode—are turning the lead role back over to the reporter, voluntarily surrendering their right to be an equal.
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