Oliff’s Life

David Frost with former President Richard Nixon. Richard honed his interview techniques during his career as a salesman
David Frost with former President Richard Nixon. Richard honed his interview techniques during his career as a salesman

Before entering the world of broadcasting I’d spent most of my working life in a sales and marketing environment.

The attraction of company cars, regular decent monthly incomes, bonuses, commissions, expense accounts: even free petrol in one company, all lured me into a suited and booted brief-case-carrying well-groomed existence.

Yet without doubt those years of dealing with both public and business to business contacts gave me, if somewhat unknowingly, a fundamental grounding in many of the skills required both as a broadcaster and interviewer.

The techniques of questioning follow parallel lines, giving me an almost instinctive, even natural, interviewing technique.

I would often find myself on a sales training course at some random converted country manor that doubled up as a nouveau hotel and conference centre where I would meet other salesfolk from the same company from all over the country.

Companies who specialise in training salespeople would equip us all with the knowledge and skills required to hit every sales target set.

Yet it wasn’t until I’d begun a career in broadcasting that I felt that any of these techniques had actually embedded themselves in my brain.

For example, the difference between the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ question.

An example of a closed question might be, “Do you want a cup of tea?” the answer to which would invariably be either yes or no: end of conversation.

An example of an open question might be, “What kind of tea would you prefer?” which would allow the conversation to continue.

These open questions are the mainstay of most interviewers in the media: who, how, what, why, where and when. When faced with any of these it would seem almost impossible for the interviewee to respond with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.