HOW TO INTERVIEW… | TOP TEN TIPS | FOOTBALL REPORTING | LIVE SPORT | With Eisha Acton

Today I’m going to give you some tips on how to interview. As some of you know, I have been working in Sports Broadcast for five years. My experience ranges from Sports Presenting and Football Reporting to hosting podcasts and a little live commentary too. I get messages on linkedin and Twitter from Sports Journalism students and people who’ve always wanted to get into this field asking for tips so it gave me the idea to write up some pointers! I have some handy tips that would’ve helped me when I was first starting out. If that sounds interesting to you do keep reading and follow me for more content like this.

Some of these are going to seem super simple but they’re absolutely crucial pointers in my opinion. Number one: prepare. I know we’re talking about live sport and you can’t control what will happen on matchday itself BUT with the right research you can utilise your knowledge for some great questions. If we’re just talking just about football, of course manager interviews are a lot easier in a way because there’s only one per team haha so just get familiar with everything that coach has been doing recently, and talking about recently. For example, if you see that last week the manager was asked about what the team are working on in training, then on match day- include that reference in your questions- ask for an update on that. If you’re actually closely following the league you’re covering, OBVIOUSLY this is so much easier and I strongly suggest you do; no matter how fast paced the tournament is. Aside from the manager, in terms of player interviews- you could really be interviewing anyone. Goal scorers, captains, anyone. So, again, you must stay familiar with every single player in the league. Create your own player data bank. In addition, as you’re following the game on matchday- do research on the job. Everytime a player scores- check the stats on them. Was that their 50th goal? Was it their first goal in 7months? Stay in touch with someone on your team who works on stats. Get the info and jot it down because if you get to interview them post-match it’ll come in handy. You need to avoid generic interviews. Always look to frame your chat with accurate stats and figures. For me personally. I LOVE including stats in my interviews. Also, just remember that as a reporter, no one wants to hear your opinion haha sorry but it’s true! Just stating a fact and probing for an opinion or reaction is a good simple practice to follow.

This leads me onto my next pointer- be concise with your questions! I was bad at this when I started working as a football reporter. I talk too much as it is and in this kind of fast paced environment, there’s just no time for that. Also, like I said; it’s not about me. It’s about that person being interviewed so you HAVE to keep your questions short and punchy. The shorter the better, because you can ask more of them, right? I’ll give you a examples, this is a poorly framed question:

“So this is the first time in 5years the team has managed seven consecutive league wins and since Bruno came back from injury you two have revived this strike partnership brilliantly, you’ve not lost a game since, are you confident you’ll go on to win the league?”

This is terrible! Too long! It’s like you’re using all that time to just show off how much you know haha. So, I’d frame the questions with one stat to prompt a reaction. Something like this works better:

“The team haven’t lost a game since Bruno came back from injury- you must be delighted to have revived your formidable strike partnership?”

Something short and sweet… specific too! Don’t waste questions on being too generic. For example in question one, I asked if the player is confident they’ll to go on and win the league. Steer clear from these questions if it’s only mid-season- keep the content timely and relevant to today’s result and position.

Next tip, it sounds like a simple one but, again, hear me out: be friendly! Remember, you’re having a conversation in front of a camera (even though this may feel staged and odd) the person in front of you need to feel at ease. There may be chaos going on around you- it might be post match, you’re on a football pitch in the pouring with rain. The player or manager probably wants to get back in the dressing room or team coach and be done with the stresses of a match day. So, if you’re getting their time, make it a pleasant chat! Smile, be friendly and colloquial with them, stay respectable and at the end of the interview ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS thank them for their time. As your professional relationship grows with the players and managers you’ll find your work improves too. You’ll get more genuine answers, and on camera it wont appear like two cold strangers having a Q and A.

Moving on, as an interviewer you really need to read the room. If it’s a huge defeat and you’re interviewing a player or manager post match- don’t be cheery, be friendly but lower your tone. On the other hand, if it’s a big win, let the coach or player bounce off your energy. Don’t be robotic and whatever you do show your personality but just learn how to adapt to the mood.

Next tip: keep a notebook with you. Some people work well thinking on their feet and the atmosphere in live sport is always going to be pretty hectic so that’s required but for me (particularly early on) jotting down bullet point questions really helped especially to keep a flow, especially if the questions contain stats and figures. Jot it down, you cannot afford to get that wrong when the cameras on and you’re stood in front of the interviewee.

So like I mentioned, you should familiarise yourself with a standard flow of questions. Let’s now talk about that a bit more. For example, if my producer tells me I’ve got three questions maximum with a coach (which is the norm for post match interviews) with these kind of interviews- I tend to start with:

  • something related to the result as a whole. I wouldn’t say generic but something related to the result for sure
  • then I’d consider moving onto a player-specific questions or if a record was broken perhaps? State the record broken and prompt the manager into how they feel about that
  • then I’d end with something looking ahead. Forthcoming fixture etc. or if they’ve progressed to the next round of a tournament or something.

By the way, this is just a loose template. If something controversial has happened and you’re limited to just three questions then prioritise that. Or if a key player of theirs has been injured in the game, do enquire about that and scrap the forthcoming fixture question. You might even ask the first question and the interviewee goes on and on and on. For live TV you’ll be wearing in ear talk back so your producer would be telling you something like: “okay, only ask one more question or wrap this up quickly!”.

Let’s move onto the next tip: listen to the person you’re interviewing! I know I just suggested to try and bullet point your questions in a notebook (which should be on a clipboard by the way so it’s easy to keep hold of and looks presentable) however, I must add that whatever you jot down, do not feel that you MUST STICK TO the plan. You really need to read where the interview is going and it sounds simple but I didn’t do this enough when I was starting out- actually listen to the person you’re interviewing. If their response to the first question is extensive enough to answer the second question you were about to ask then- scrap the second question. You don’t have much time with them- you cannot have them repeating themselves so move on to the next question you had lined up. Also, if you pick up something interesting in their answer, perhaps a controversial statement or an ambiguous point- just remember you’re a reporter… you need to probe more for their opinion! If you think the viewer at home would be watching thinking: “Oh what did he or she mean by that comment?”. Don’t brush over it- make the interview interesting, repeat what the interviewee has just suggested and ask them to elaborate. For example, if my first question is: “Disappointing result today what do you think were the defining moments of the game?” then the manager is going on about terrible decisions by the match officials, or as Mouriunho said “if I speak I’ll get in trouble” haha try your luck. If there was a booking or a penalty you really need to encourage an opinion from them on it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never overstep my boundaries and I wouldn’t advise you to ever be too presumptuous with your approach either but simply keep questions open and use them as a prompt. That leads me onto my next point..

You never ever ever want yes or no answers. So your question must be worded in a way to avoid this. Examples of good openers:

  • “huge win you must be delighted?”
  • “10 consecutive cleansheets now- how do you feel breaking the club record?”
  • “a superb defensive improvement in recent weeks- how have the team been training to work on these areas?”
  • (if it’s something lighthearted) “the best league start to a season- how’s the mood been in the camp?”
  • “6 points needed to qualify for the semi-finals- how confident are you that the team can keep up the winning momentum?”

If you’ve noticed, you cannot physically answer any of these questions with a yes or no… that’s something you have to bear in mind.

Next tip! You need to understand the exact event you’re working at, is it a pre-match press conference? If so, the questions might need to be framed around pressing matters to get information out of the coach. Or is it post-match? Where the stories could be based on emotions? How is the manager or player feeling about the result? I always love capturing the raw emotions on the touchline so if you find a way to work their emotions into your interview you’re onto a winner

Lastly, I’d say you need to understand what exactly you’re aiming to get out of the interview. If you have a producer or director, you’d be expected to liaise with them. For example, once I was reporting on a game and there was a pre-match feature on the emerging local talent that were making a name for themselves in the league so when one of them scored that match day I knew to ask the club owner about how important it is for them to nurture their youth to develop their game. You always want to be on the same page as everyone else in production so ask around and get a feel of what is being produced on that day (if it’s for a show). If you’re just doing an interview that won’t be used for a show or anything then use the opportunity to create your own narrative. What message or story would you like the viewer to take from the interview? Form your questions with that in mind.

Okay, that’s it for today- if you want to see my full story on how I started working in sports broadcast you can find it on this link: https://youtu.be/3VrMiJoPXQc

If you enjoyed this article do share it and comment below. Let me know below any other questions you might have! Thank you for reading.

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