Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Let them hear you smile

The headline is the biggest piece of advice that I took from my first coaching session. The other biggest lesson was, "it's not what you say; it's how you say it."

We talked about some of the most memorable play-by-calls, such as: Jack Buck's, "Go Crazy, People, Go Crazy!" after Ozzie Smith's game-winning home run in the 1985 playoffs; Al Michaels saying, "Do you believe in miracles?" after Team USA beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics; and Jack's, "I don't believe what I just saw," after Kirk Gibson's home run beat Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

What made those calls so memorable wasn't just what they said; it was how they were said. Using your voice -- going up and down, being incredulous, spontaneous, and empathic -- is critical to the success of a call.

Still, the hour didn't go as I thought. I was hoping to get feedback on my play by play. Instead, we focused on interviewing and I did a couple mock interviews by phone. It was odd, and I don't think the mock interviews were indicative of what I'm normally like doing interviews.

But it was still helpful. If nothing else, it made me realize that when I'm trying really hard to focus, I end up sounding wayyyyyy too serious. I need to sound more conversational, like I'm talking to a buddy.

Interviewing is truly an art form. It's the hardest thing to do in journalism. Most people take for granted how difficult it is, and laugh when they hear dumb questions. But ask anybody who has done it -- a little or a lot -- and they'll tell you it's a constant struggle to ask questions in a way that elicit the best answers.

Interviewing for newspapers is much different than interviewing on the radio or TV, which is something I'm constantly learning. For print, it's all about being informal, chatty, conversational. You don't want the subject to feel like they're being interviewed. For radio and TV, you need to be empathetic, concise with your words, and setup the subject best. I feel like I'm better than most at interviewing, but I'm still far from perfect.

Anyway, I hope the second session involves a critique of my play by play. After all, interviewing is important, but that's three minutes of my day. The play by play is three hours of my day.

By the way, I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm getting coached. Some of my broadcasting peers told me it was a waste of money. The way I see it, Tiger Woods has a coach. So does Roger Federer. Dan Patrick gets coached. They are the best at the professions. It seems silly that a journalist turned broadcaster would not get coached.

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