Many interviewees struggle when it comes to handling interruptions from the interviewer or, indeed, from a fellow-panellist in a roundtable discussion.
When answering a question and they are interrupted, some spokespeople surrender there and then. This can result in their completing the interview having conveyed hardly any of the main points they intended to make. The whole encounter ends up being the “interviewer’s interview” with the spokesperson merely playing a supporting role.
Alternatively, the interviewee becomes very belligerent and starts “taking on” the interviewer or presenter. The spokesperson starts losing the plot, using phrases like “If you would just stop interrupting me…” or “Will you please let me finish my answer…”. Irritability starts revealing itself in their body language.
This can rapidly turn into a shouting-match between interviewer and interviewee. It’s not wise for a spokesperson to get drawn into such a heated exchange. Very quickly, viewers can gain the impression that the interviewee is ill-at-ease being questioned. The audience starts thinking that if an interviewee can get so easily rattled by one or two interruptions, he or she must know they are on dodgy ground or are completely lacking in confidence with regard to what they are saying.
The first thing an interviewee needs to ask themselves is this: why do interruptions happen?
There’s one thing an interviewer is aware of that the interviewee is not: the clock or, more specifically, the second hand of the clock.
The person conducting the interview would have been told by his or her producer that they have, say, three minutes and 20 seconds for the interview and no longer.
The interviewer and, perhaps more importantly, the programme editor will know that there are a certain number of key questions that need to be put to the interviewee, whatever the topic it is. Therefore, the interviewer cannot allow the spokesperson to have free rein when it comes to the length of their answers. If the interview is 3 minutes and 20 seconds long, for example, the interviewer can’t allow his subject to ramble on and end up making two ‘speeches’ of a minute-and-a-half each, with just two questions from the presenter – one at the start and one in the middle. In such circumstances the presenter might justifiably be confronted by his editor at the end of the programme and asked: “Why the hell didn’t you ask X about Y, you idiot.” It would be a useless presenter who then replies: “Sorry, I ran out of time.” It’s the presenter’s job to make sure he or she does not run out of time – hence the interruptions, to make sure there is time for all the key questions to be put.
Furthermore, good interviewers are very skilled at spotting when an interviewee starts rambling and needs to be interrupted to bring them back to the heart of the issue under discussion. Or, the spokesperson has been droning on for so long in making their point, the presenter can hear the audience falling asleep.
So that’s the background to why interruptions happen.
How should one deal with them?
Basically, respond to interruptions in an understated rather than a bellicose manner. Take them in your stride. Interruptions are part of the punctuation of interviews.
So, if the interviewer piles in before you have completed your answer, don’t try to shout him or her down. Let them have their say and respond with a low-key phrase like: “That’s a fair point, but just to complete what I was saying about…” or “I’m happy to answer that point, but let me just briefly finish the point about…”
Perhaps keep Freddie Mercury in mind when seeking guiding principles for handling interruptions.
If you are “Under Pressure” through being interrupted in an interview, avoid taking a “Don’t Stop Me Now” approach towards your interviewer. Be more laid-back and “Play The Game”. After all, “The Show Must Go On”.
Otherwise, as far as your interview is concerned, it will be a case of “Another One Bites The Dust”.