Asking the right questions

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Asking the right questions

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What does it take to be a good interviewer? Neil and Alice discuss TV chat show hosts and teach you some related vocabulary.

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Neil Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Neil…

Alice … and I’m Alice. Now Neil, I’m a big fan of chat shows, as you know. But what do you think makes a good interview?

Neil I like it when the interviewer asks a question that catches the guest off guard. You know - to surprise them so they’re embarrassed and don’t know what to say.

Alice That’s not very nice!

Neil I know. But it’s great TV. That’s what chat shows are all about, isn’t it?

Alice Well, I don’t agree, Neil! A chat show , by the way, is a TV or radio programme where a host - the person who presents the show - talks to guest celebrities about various topics. And what makes a good interview is the subject of today’s show.

Neil So what’s a good interview technique, Alice?

Alice Well, asking open questions - questions the celebrities can’t easily respond to with a short answer. Open questions give them the chance to talk and possibly reveal some juicy details about themselves!

Neil Juicy details means information you find interesting because it’s exciting or shocking.

Alice Yes. So let’s test your interviewing skills, Neil. Ask me something - see if you can get some juicy details.

Neil OK… Hmm… How much do you weigh?

Alice How much do I weigh?

Neil Yeah.

Alice How much do you weigh? Look, that’s a closed question - you’re going to get a short answer and no juicy details! And more importantly, Neil, it’s a rude question!

Neil OK - bad choice. Sorry. But your reaction was juicy - you got pretty hot under the collar - and that means embarrassed or angry! I’ll try to think of a better question to ask you before the end of the show.

Alice Alright then. Now, since you aren’t good at asking questions, perhaps you can answer one instead. Who developed a method of questioning around two and a half thousand years ago that aims to discover hidden truths? Was it … a) Hippocrates? b) Socrates? Or c) Aristotle?

Neil Well, I don’t know much about ancient history so I’m going to guess c) Aristotle.

Alice Well, we’ll find out if you picked the right answer later on - but now let’s listen to Larry King talking about the secret of his successful career as a TV chat show host. Can you spot a word that means to get or produce?

INSERT Larry King, TV chat show host, US If you ask good questions and you elicit thoughtful answers then you learn more about the person. If the interview’s hard - if I begin by saying, ‘Why did you do that?’ I’d make you defensive. That may be thrilling television, but you don’t learn a lot. I learned that the more I drew back, asked good questions, listened to the answers, cared about the guest … you make the camera disappear.

Neil The word Larry King used is… elicit.

Alice Right. And you elicited a defensive reaction from me when you asked a not very thoughtful question about my weight. Defensive means protecting yourself from criticism or attack.

Neil OK, I wouldn’t make a good chat show host then.

Alice You’re right there. So good interviewers draw back - or move away - from being the centre of attention. They’re good listeners and care about their guests. Sound familiar?

Neil Are you suggesting that you’re a good interviewer?

Alice Yup.

Neil OK, well, so why aren’t you a top chat show host, hmm? What does Larry mean when he says you have to make the camera disappear?

Alice It means to make the conversation real - as if you were chatting with a friend - rather than performing to a TV audience. But let’s hear more from Larry King on the secret of his success.

INSERT Larry King, TV chat show host, US I don’t want a ‘no’. I don’t want a ‘yes’. I want a ‘why’. So in other words, I want to be a little kind of dumb. My friend Herbie said the secret of my success is being dumb. ‘What do you mean by that?’

Neil So you have to ask dumb - or stupid - questions to make a great chat show host! I knew it!

Alice Maybe there’s hope for you yet, Neil.

Neil Charming.

Alice Lovely. OK, here’s the answer to today’s quiz question. I asked: Who developed a method of questioning around two and a half thousand years ago that aims to discover hidden truths? Was it… a) Hippocrates? b) Socrates? Or c) Aristotle?

Neil And I said c) Aristotle.

Alice No, it was b) Socrates. All three were famous Greek philosophers but Socrates was the one who angered lots of important people by his probing - or investigative - questions - and this technique is called Socratic Dialogue. Socrates lived from 469 to 399 BC and he influenced philosophy so much that all previous thinkers have come to be known as Pre-Socratic. Despite this he declared “All I know is that I know nothing”.

Neil Very noble. OK, a final question for you, Alice. What makes you happy?

Alice Working with such a fantastic co-presenter, Neil.

Neil That’s nice! I’m embarrassed now.

Alice Can you tell us the words we heard today?

Neil Of course!

catch somebody off guard chat show host open questions juicy details closed question hot under the collar elicit defensive draw back make the camera disappear dumb probing

Alice Well, that’s the end of today’s 6 Minute English. Please join us again soon.

Neil Yes, do indeed!

Both Bye.

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