Michael Phelps Interview

Michael Phelps Interview

These August evenings, the 8th through the 24th, my family turns our television to a fierce competition. Not only among nations, but among stations as well.

My wife, Lisa, is an avid Olympic fan. She wants the maximum amount of action for her viewing time.  In our market, the Olympics are carried by three stations–King 5, the local NBC affiliate; the USA network; and CBC, our Canadian channel. Lisa will spend the evening with one hand on the remote switching between stations whenever she thinks the coverage wanes on the channel she’s watching.

Airtime in primetime hours on NBC during the Olympics is worth (according to MediaDailyNews) $750,000 a minute–yes, a minute. Not the $1.7m a minute the SuperBowl commands, but still a big pile of coin.

That’s why NBC put together a team of knowledgeable, experienced, charismatic correspondents to explain, comment on, and add color to the 2008 Olympics–to make Lisa tune our set to our local NBC affiliate and keep it there throughout the 17 nights of competition and especially the commercials that fill out this summer’s Olympic telecast and generate the revenue for NBC.

And Monday night, they dropped the ball.

It was one of the clearest examples I’ve seen of not understanding how emotions work and not being able to take advantage of that knowledge to create connection and communications.

There was Michael Phelps having just won his firt gold medal in swimming. Andrea Kremer intercepted him as he came out of the pool area. He was nearly shivering, his voice just a little shaky. We all, especially my wife Lisa, wanted to know what it was like to start his hunt for a record 8 gold medals in a single Olympics.

“What are the emotions running through your mind?” Andrea asked. “Happy and excitement,” Michael replied.

You won’t a picture from the interview or quotes posted on the internet. It fell flat–didn’t deliver. It may be a small thing. Michael has been interviewed lots of times during these Olympics, a press conference virtually every day in addition to the comments he’s had for color reporters following events.

But that interview didn’t hold my family over to the next commercial break. And if other rabid fans reacted like my wife did, lots of people switched away. And that means loss of revenue for NBC and future networks who carry the Olympics. And not a trivial loss.

There are questions you could ask that would predictably draw a more engaging response. Asking how he’s reacting, for example, will generally get you more. “Wow, Michael, there’s number one, what’s your reaction to your first big win?” People like to talk about their reactions and the question isn’t as narrow as emotions. They’ll tell you about their physical reaction, their emotional reactions, and their thoughts. And you’ll get a sense from their answer of which of these they’re attending to most.

Another way to encourage people to reveal themselves is to note the reactions you can see and ask what’s behind it. “Michael, I notice your voice is a little shaky, your eyes are watering up a bit. Where’s that coming from?”

Not every discussion merits a word-by-word examination. Else, we’d never be able to walk through a social event at ease. Some discussions do, though. When your boss says, “you know, I picked you myself and I have to say I’m really disappointed.” When your patient says, “I’m gonna sue you and this hospital.” When you have a one-on-one interview with the greatest athlete in Olympic history and your time is worth $750,000 a minute.

Tim’s Takeaway:

Especially if you work in an area where the stakes are high, it’s worth your time to craft communications that serve your needs. Communications is a skill like any other. There are frameworks for communicating that can reliably produce the kind of outcomes you want.

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