This section will mainly discuss the non-verbal aspects of Talkshow hosting. Content is about your theme, structure, and “what” you do. Delivery is about “how” you do what you do.
Think about how you behave when you go to a party where you will meet many people you have never met before. Maybe you look forward to meeting new people and enjoying your extrovert side, networking, and reaching out. Perhaps you dread that party and all those new people and, as an introvert, immediately look for people you know or a space where you feel comfortable. You find it difficult to figure out what to say to new people.
Your behavior is reflected by your attitude. If you feel at ease and look forward to the party and meeting people you do not know, your behavior will reflect that. You will actively hunt for people to say hello to. Your head will probably be titled just a bit to the side, which communicates interest. You will be moving forward, virtually walking “into” to greet others. You may even tilt your upper body towards the other person to convey interest. The tempo of your voice may increase; that is the speed at which you talk. The inflection of your voice may rise just a bit, which communicates energy. You will hold eye contact a bit longer, and you will even shake hands or make a brief physical contact for just a half-second longer.
Your non-verbal, body language communication changes when your intention changes. “I want to meet this person or these people.” “I want to make a good first impression.” “I want others to feel that I am interested in them.” “I want to start a good conversation.” “I wonder what makes these people tick and what they do that is perhaps in line with my interests.”
Think like that, and your body language will almost always follow. Think the opposite – “I am not good at making small talk.” “I don’t feel comfortable meeting new people.” “Everything feels so artificial. I am guessing no one has anything that can contribute to what I already know.” “I am bad with names.” “I am never going to see these people again, so what’s the point?”
I am most sure you do get the point. Think like that, and your body language will communicate uninterest, and that will make you an exceptionally uninteresting person to be around. Then it becomes a vicious circle: boredom, negative thoughts, insecurity, and just hoping you can sneak out early.
What is your intention when you greet your guests and start your conversation? What do you want them to feel?
Of course, part of the responsibility lies with the guest. Just watch some of the people who come on late-night Talkshows to see their energy and enthusiasm as they walk on stage and settle into their chairs. Surprisingly, many communicate a sense of “Wow. I’m here. This will be fun.” That helps them. It also helps the host.
When you are the host, you have the primary responsibility for the conversation. That means being aware of how your behavior affects the behavior of your guests. Things to consider:
– How you use your eyes – the length of your eye contact
– How you tilt your head – the “telephone” position says you are here to listen and communicate
– How you use voice inflection – rising voice inflection at the end of a question often conveys interest
– How you use mini-pauses – waiting for just an extra half-second for a reply before jumping in yourself. I understand the stress of wanting to fill the airwaves, but your audience will have tolerance for a few seconds of silence as you wait for a reflective response.
– How you use sequencing – timing, when to move on, and when to keep digging
– How you build a dramaturgy for your time frame – create suspense, curiosity, and perhaps a big finish. Well, that’s not exactly body language, but something to point out while I’m in the process…
– How you use touch – a sensitive subject, but a quick one-finger touch on the lower arm is often acceptable
– How you use leaning into, which shows interests or leaning away, which can communicate you want to jump in or need to move on
– How you use your hands – palms up says “yes,” palms down more often communicate “no”
– How you use gestures – which communicate energy, emphasis, gathering in or rounding off
– The tempo of your movements and gestures express stress or comfort
– How you use a smile – a smile is a direct line to acceptance and usually helps others to relax
And then there are the other non-verbals:
– The chairs and seating arrangements
– The color of the room
– The ability to see and hear clearly (which is not always the case)
– Decorations, posters, artwork, flowers, etc.
– Room size
– The visual arrangement of the technology
– Your clothes (which I got a very good reminder on an interview with a leader of a local organization the other day – I should have remembered that this organization was quite formal and I should have dressed up. Instead, I dressed very informally, and the interview with the chief executive was dressed for business. I assure you that my informality did not help the interview, which was awkward from the start.
Please add on to my lists.
What kinds of questions should you ask? What should your Talkshow really be about?
You have a triangle on your hands: You, Your Guest. Your Audience. If you work hard, maybe you can add a sponsor or two. You will need to consider all three corners of your triangle (or better yet, your square).
You have invited an interesting guest or two.
You have done your preparation.
You know that the technology works.
You have put your guest or guests at ease.
You have a good sense of your purpose and content.
You have a good understanding of the non-verbal/body language aspects that affect the conversation.
The quality of your conversation, interview, coaching session, or whatever your Talkshow focuses on depends on the quality of your questions.
Say you have three people in front of you, just back from their vacations. You decide to approach them in three different ways. The first person you address only with open-ended phrases or questions, such as, “Tell me about your vacation.” Then you sit and wait for a reply. You say, “Ummmm,” “Yes,” “Nice,” “Tell me more,” or something neutral. You will get two types of responses. They will either just be quiet (and a bit nervous about what you want them to say or if they are doing okay) or they will start talking about the details and in their uncertainly just keep blabbering away.
Neither you nor they learn anything special, but you’ve listened and acknowledged. It’s just that you haven’t helped to lead this anywhere and instead have created uncertainty.
The second person you ask the following: “How long was your vacation?” “Oh, three weeks,” they may say. Then you say, “Well, what did you accomplish with all that free time?” “Oh, nothing special I just relaxed.” And you reply, “Just relaxed! Time is precious; you need to prepare for starting work again, and you should have fixed up your apartment.” In other words, whatever they say, you tell them more or less that this is not good enough. They should do this or that. They could have done this or that. “Went sailing? Well, that’s not exercising.” “Spent time with your family? You see them all the time. Why didn’t you try to make some new friends?” “Went to the beach? You know too much sun is not good for you.”
What happens is one of two things. They stop talking because they are being disqualified as a person, or they start getting after you, “Well, you’re not so efficient yourself, you know.” Resentment is the next step.
To the third person, you say, “What gave you the most satisfaction during your vacation?” You will notice that that person will take a slight pause, look away, gather their thoughts, choose something and then reply. “I just relaxed.” Accepting that answer, you dig a bit, “Relaxing on your vacation was probably very important for you. What can you do a little more of during your workweek to get in some small doses of downtime?”
What you are doing is using your guest’s answers to dig a little deeper into something important to them and how they can do more of what they need or want in other times or places.
You are helping your guest or conversational partner to think, reflect, value, decide on a next step and prioritize. Don’t overdo it! The object is not to psychoanalyze. Just prod in the hope of leading to some kind of insight and then perhaps a choice for their future.
I assure you that will make you an interesting person to talk to, get to know, or collaborate with.
A typical Talkshow situation is when your guest describes some kind of experience they have been a part of. It could be a project, a trip, a team or individual event, something they have learned or accomplished. Help them to look back in order to look forward. Here are some examples of reflective questions that help another person to reflect, value, decide, prioritize, analyze, or just plain go inwards for a few seconds to think a bit more clearly:
– What were you most pleased about?
– What gave you the most pleasure?
– Describe why this is so meaningful (or important) to you?
– What did you do well?
– What was your major contribution?
– What surprised you?
– What is your greatest insight?
– What did you learn?
– If you had a new chance, what would you do differently?
– If there was just one thing you could change, what would it be?
– What will you take forward from this experience?
These are examples of starter questions. Some of them are not easy to answer very quickly, and that’s half the point. One of your major purposes is to get your guest to reflect upon their life experiences. That’s what makes you an interesting person to talk to – and a little challenging to talk to. If you don’t challenge and ask questions that lead to reflection, then what’s the point? Without this, you are doing simple promotion, public relations or are just sort of blowing wind. That’s fine, but if you are like me, you want more.
You don’t have to agree with me on this point. I am not a small talk person. I want to give others encouragement and support. I want my guests to feel good about themselves. I want to hear about their past and future contributions to the world. But if you don’t challenge or dig a bit, you are not that helpful – or interesting.
Timing is crucial and an important part of the artistry of your delivery. Silence in a Talkshow can make any Talkshow host nervous, especially if you are doing this in front of a television or radio audience. There are, however, different degrees of silence. If you ask reflective questions, then your guest should not be able to respond immediately. Reflective questions require reflective answers – sorting out ideas, analyzing, then choosing what to say. It can take a second, two, or three. These “mini-pauses” are crucial to an effective conversation. Remember the interview with Felix in part four? There was a long silence near the end. He needed time to sort out his thoughts and I gave him time and he came up with a funny and good example.
You will actually see a physical reaction, most often resulting in your guest looking away from you and often upwards before they come back to you with an answer. It is easier to sort and prioritize while looking away, and you should be happy when you see that reaction because it means there is a reflective process going on. Don’t worry; they’ll come back to you. I promised you Eureka moments in the title of this course. You won’t get them in every interview, but the chances that you will dramatically increase when you ask a question that demands reflection or prod forward from an insight to a next step When they “look away” and then come back to you, at least you can say “Eureka” to yourself because you’ve done something right in your interview.
In these the image below, you see Martin look away and up. He needs to reflect, and then he comes back to me with a reply. When you see that physical reaction it most often means you’ve asked a question with purpose and meaning.
The next step is “reading” your guest and adjusting. After that, you want to lead them forward.
Just remember to be clear about your purpose. Obviously, a Talkshow can have various purposes – from entertainment to promoting a book, film, or show, to sharing an experience without necessarily leading to any special reflection. It’s okay just to have fun or a pleasant conversation.
Just a reminder – my personal goal is not fun; my goal is learning and reflecting, therefore my somewhat more serious tone and purpose. Humor is very important to me, and there will be lots of laughs, and when looking at one’s behavior and actions, there is usually a lot to laugh about. In the end, however, laughter and just chilling with each other is not enough for me. How about you?