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How to Interview Shatta Wale – I

Before the Interview

The interview actually began before we went on air. I1 met Ghanaian musician with his entourage just outside the Makeup Department at Ghana Television. We walked into the studio together making small talk. As soon as he took his seat, I asked him “What do you want people to know at the end of this interview?” Shatta's response was not what I expected. “That I'm just a real person.” I said to myself “Let's go!”

What to Remember:

Don't interview a guest “cold”

The first words you speak to an interviewee should not be when you are live on air. When I heard that Shatta and his team were almost at GTV, I went out of the studio with my cup of koko (porridge) and positioned myself in such a way that I would meet him and chat for a few minutes before the interview began. Most interviewees are unsure of how an interview will turn out so it's important to keep things warm and relaxed before the cameras start rolling.

Don't make assumptions about the aim of the interview.

As part of my briefing, my show director had told me the musician was coming to promote his new album. But I still asked Shatta what he wanted to get out of the interview. I was pleasantly surprised when he implied that the interview could go beyond just his music. As an interviewer, that meant I had a lot more ground to cover. Just asking “What do you want to get out of this interview” gives you an idea of what the final result will look like. Note: I did not show Shatta my questions or even tell him what areas I would be covering. My question centred on what outcome he expected at the end of the chat.

I have had guests tell me “Don't talk about this or that” and I have had to respect their wishes. I have also seen controversial and not-so-controversial guests end interviews abruptly and walk off because the host went down a path that was not agreed upon. I know which route works better and achieves more. Anyone who sits in the guest's chair for an interview has an aim to achieve. Simply ask them what they want to get out of the chat and base your questions around that objective.

The Introduction

How you start an interview is very important. It lays the foundation for the conversation that will ensue. This is how I began my chat with Shatta:

Me: You're watching GTV Breakfast. My guest is… Shatta Wale. Good morning.

Shatta: Good morning.

Me: How be things?

That's it. In 6 seconds, I had identified the station, introduced my guest, greeted him and asked him my first question. Why did I do it so quickly?
There are 3 good reasons to keep introductions short, whether the guest is controversial or not.

What to Remember

Keep your audience interested

You need to keep your audience interested in the interview. These days people are time-starved with multiple things competing for their precious attention. A long introduction may make a viewer or listener tune off to do something else. You don't want that to happen to you.

Get straight to the point

I could have recited a long list of Shatta Wale's achievements as part of my introduction. I didn't. It's repetitive to introduce a guest by listing all their credentials right at the beginning and then asking about those same credentials within the interview. Don't be boring. Get straight to the point.

Talk less and listen more

With 1 mouth and 2 ears, we all should talk less and listen more, especially interviewers. Corporate trainer and author Brian Tracy says you can't learn when you are talking. I agree with him. Speaking less is beneficial to an interviewer because it gives the host more time to hear and learn from the person who has come on the show to talk. Makes sense doesn't it?

Bonus Reason

I wanted to beat the record of a interviewer who had her guest talking in 10 seconds. Just kidding! Let's get back to the Shatta interview and how I engaged him right after the introduction.

Relax the Guest

Television studios can be cold, intimidating places with hot lights and many people moving up and down a room filled with equipment of all kinds. Often, the guest is not sure what to expect from the interview, especially if they had been in the news recently about one controversy or the other. I sensed Shatta was being cautious when the interview began so I decided to speak Pidgin English.

Ghanaian boys and men generally speak Pidgin in informal settings and that is the environment I wanted to create with Shatta. 14 seconds into the interview I asked him “Chaley so on your , what be your name?” I could tell he wasn't expecting such a question. Smiling and laughing, he told me who calls him “Charles” “Nii Armah” and I was able to learn a few new things about the person seated across the desk from me. The combination of the Pidgin and an unusual question enabled Shatta to open up quickly and get the interview off to a friendly start.

Know the Context

A day before the Shatta Wale interview, Ghana experienced a near-total internet shutdown. The entire population was directly and indirectly affected by slow or nonexistent data services. I knew Shatta's career was boosted by his use of the internet to promote his music. So it felt natural to ask him when he knew something was wrong with the internet. Shatta's reply including his theory about who was behind the shutdown took the interview down a path I hadn't planned but was interesting to audiences. (I knew this because I could feel a ripple of energy from the crew and people in the studio).

What to Remember

Make the conversation feel like an informal chat. On both occasions that I interviewed Ghanaian musician King Ayisoba, we spoke Pidgin. My Twi was as rudimentary as his English but our Pidgin was as excellent as the chats we had.

If a recent event has occurred, ask the guest for their response or reaction to it. You may be pleasantly surprised by the response you get.

  1. The author is Ghanaian TV personality and corporate MC Kafui Dey ↩︎

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