The psychologist we sent to appear on a morning TV news show did not expect the anchor by her side to start the interview by asking about her plans for Christmas dinner. We scheduled her to speak about relationships, but the anchors had been talking about holiday dinners beforehand. We prepare people for all types of questions, but anticipating one specifically about dinner is a reach.
Many TV anchors have always liked a transition between stories, sometimes no matter how difficult or forced. Some anchors also appreciate starting or ending an interview with a question that reminds us of a party ice breaker. The question might focus on the weather, sports or some other lighthearted current event everyone seems to be chatting about. This type of unpredictable question can throw off a newbie to TV, especially someone practicing and zeroing in so carefully on delivering key messages. And when people hesitate to answer such a question or do so awkwardly, they appear stiff or to lack personality.
When anchors tossed to me for a live shot, they sometimes threw a twist by beginning with a question instead of the more traditional, “Let’s go live to Keith Yaskin with the story.” This type of surprise requires rapid thinking especially when someone is so focused and prepared to begin by saying something else.
Media training should include some off-the-wall, seemingly unrelated questions to ensure you don’t stall. While interviewing a manager during media training, we asked him a question about his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys. He offered an analysis worthy of Phil Simms and his thorough answer led to laughter. But his ability to answer our audible and then return to the game plan helps ensure his future interviews will be no joke.