In an interview don’t feel compelled to talk or keep talking just because your interviewer shuts up. That way lies trouble.
Often, interviewees feel themselves bound to carry on speaking at a moment when the interviewer falls silent. The interviewee acquires an inner sense that they are almost under an obligation, having completed an answer, to keep talking should the interviewer not come back immediately with another question.
It’s almost as though the interviewee fears the audience will think badly of them if they don’t carry on talking.
Journalists have many interviewing techniques aimed at putting an interviewee under pressure.
Silence is one of them.
There can be several periods of silence during a newspaper interview in particular. That’s because the press reporter, even though they might be using a dictaphone, will also be taking down notes. That takes time. It might take just a few seconds for the journalist to jot down what you’ve just said, but it only takes a brief moment like this for the interviewee to start telling themselves they need to keep speaking or the reporter will conclude that they are struggling or have little to say for themselves.
A strange urge develops in the mind of the interviewee to be helpful towards the journalist.
Forget it. A moment of silence between a reporter and an interviewee is possibly the most dangerous part of a press interview. When the interviewee feels compelled to speak, that’s when lapses and errors occur and the spokesperson says something they might later regret.
Similar pitfalls are present in a television or radio interview. In this case, however, the interviewer is not taking down notes but looking straight at you, either face-to-face in the TV studio or across the radio studio table. In the former case there’s also the added pressure of the interviewee knowing they are being seen by the viewers. This piles further pressure upon the interviewee.
Furthermore, a skilled television interviewer – through the use of silence – can also plant the thought in the mind of the interviewee that they are shortchanging the viewers, that more is expected of them or that they appear to have very little to say for themselves.
After hearing an interviewees response to a question, the interviewer might not come straight back with another question. Just for a second or two they might simply hold their gaze towards the interviewee, as if asking: “is that it? Is that all you’ve got to say for yourself?”
Faced with that moment of silence, and that pressing eye contact from the presenter, the interviewee almost feels obliged to keep speaking or start speaking again.
That’s when you say something you should not have done.
In other words, when you’ve said what you want to say in response to a question, shut up. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that silence on your part is a confession of guilt.
As Abraham Lincoln put it: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”