Questions & Answers

Teymoor Nabili

 

Veteran Journalist and Broadcaster

CEO of The Signal

 

Asking questions can be powerful. Questions can help us gain knowledge, unlock insights, drive us to explore the unknown and many more. Asking the right kinds of questions is hard and it requires experience/skill. In an age of instant information, it is too easy and quick to find an answers, though, not necessarily the right one. 

How do know what is the right question to ask? How would you know if the answer received the right one? Or an answer based on what you want to hear?

Joining us is Teymoor Nabili, a veteran journalist and broadcaster, and CEO of a startup online news venture called “The Signal“. With a career spanning 30 years, Nabili has covered news in more than 30 countries across Europe, Asia and the Americas for various news channels such as Al Jazeera, the BBC, CNN, CNBC, CNA and Channel 4 News.

About Teymoor Nabili

  • A career journalist who began in London in the mid 80s.
  • Progressed from radio to television for organisations like CNBC, BBC, AlJazeera and most recently Channel News Asia in Singapore.
  • With a career spanning 30 years, covered news in more than 30 countries across Europe, Asia and the Americas.
  • He mostly does politics and current affairs.
  • What he engages with and is trying to more of in the future is interviews, as he likes talking to people, hearing opinions and uncover ideas and thoughts

Podcast Episode Highlights

    The most interesting people you have interviewed

    • Subject matter experts, or who’ve been in remarkable situations at strange times, who are telling stories of personal experience or have uncovered great ideas that change the way you think.
    • Very few of these people get the kind of acclaim or media attention that they deserve.

    Are questions powerful?

    • While questions are an important element when we approach the world, from the perspective of an interviewer, questions are not the only thing to focus on.
    • Instead, answers should be the thing we focus on.
    • Questions don’t necessarily prompt people to think and elicit thoughtful responses and reactions.
    • One of the trends that has emerged is the science of behaviourism and referring to the book “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
    • His proposition is that people do not think when they answer questions. They reach for what they think is the most appropriate answer in the circumstances and is based on their emotional reaction.
    • Kahneman suggests that most people respond to questions on an emotional level and try not to think too hard about it, because that is the hard work.
    • When that is put into the context of serious political or business conversation, it becomes a different thing. These people do think seriously, however what you get from them is not necessarily answers to your questions. Instead, you get a pre-scripted answer that has been prepared by their communications team that’s designed to project the image they want to project.  
    • The importance of questions is to open a conversation. The real art of conversation is listening to the answers.
    • You begin to understand the real motivation behind the way they are answering the question and start to ask the follow-up questions that probe those areas that the first question failed to answer.
    • Then you can start to determine their points of discomfort and where their points of real opinion lie.

    Formulating prompting question

    • Experience is a major determinant on how you can handle this situation. For those who can’t think quickly enough to ask the follow-up questions, it is a skill you develop over time through practice.
    • It is not a matter or intelligence or innate ability, it’s a matter of practice, experience and understanding.
    • If you’re dealing with prepared interview subjects like politicians, business people, those that are put in front of you by PR companies. The first step is to research what they’ve said before.
    • Most people will have a certain line that they want to tell you, and it is very easy to go through previous interviews and find out what they have said previously.
    • You’ll notice a certain amount of repetition and begin to understand what messages they want to get across.
    • Allow them to get that over, but also make sure that it doesn’t become the dominant theme of the interview.
    • You need to know who they are and what they want to tell you and allow that process to be a smaller part of the overall interview.
    • Once you know what their position is at the beginning, then you can begin to probe the depths of the position and what underpins the position in the first place.
    • Its important to have a certain amount of background in the subject, and the person. From that point you can look for those areas that they are trying not to answer.

    Wouldn’t that make the interviewing process uncomfortable?

    • Yes, it would. Being uncomfortable is part of the territory, part of the job.
    • For example, Oprah is a constant questioner. She will sit in front of people and not make them uncomfortable. As a consequence, she gets the sort of answer that someone like me would not be able to get.

    Dealing with interviewees who are not willing to answer certain questions

    • It can be a frustrating thing, dealing with seasoned politicians and business people where you walk away from the interview saying, “I didn’t get anything”.
    • The media training industry now is a multi billion-dollar industry, there are innumerable people who spend all their time training other people on how to dodge questions put to them by journalists. And some of them become very good at it.
    • Sometimes you just have to walk away and say that person was really good at dodging the issues and not answering questions.

    The difference between interviewing people from Asia and western countries

    • All I can offer is anecdotal observation. We can look at it from a news culture and broader culture point of view.
    • The news culture in the UK, is brutal. The best example is the show, HARDtalk, which was started in the BBC by Tim Sebastian. He did an enormous amount of work. He made sure he had reams of data, points of evidence, of surveys, of other opinions that he would put in front of the guest and allow them to address it. He was very meticulous.
    • But underpinning it, as the title suggests, was the attitude that ‘I am going to be extremely blunt with you and I expect you to take it and respond in a meaningful fashion”.
    • That is very much the western perspective. The politicians and business people are considered to be fair game. If you put yourself in the public and claim to represent the people, then you need to answer to them.
    • You cannot go up to a Singaporean politician and do what’s done on HARDtalk, despite a lot of Singaporeans saying that they would like to see some robust conversation.
    • There are very different and cultural and professional standards of play in Singapore and most of Asia in comparison to the US or Europe.

    The future of media in Singapore

    • I don’t think anyone has an idea of that. Not only do we have in industry that being digitally disrupted, but we also have an industry that in the broader cultural context of Asia doesn’t have an identity, a champion, or a home.
    • Eventually as Asia becomes the dominant force in global economics and politics, we’ll begin to have a journalistic platform that expresses the value systems and political priorities from this part of the world.

    Advice

    • The way we humans think is not the result of process, logic, categorisation or thought, analysis and understanding.
    • 90% of the time, it is purely based on emotion. We tend to make up answers that seem right, because that’s the easiest way out of the situation.
    • The interviewers and journalists who begin to understand these kind of behavioural dynamics will be much better positioned to get decent answers and more insightful comments and conversations from the people they talk to.

    About thesignal.asia

    • I host conversations about the disruption of digital technology, specifically blockchain and AI (artificial intelligence).
    • My main concern is on climate issues.
    • I’m really interested in how Asia’s cities are developing and how we can use technology to make sure that the future development in this part of the world is sustainable, environmentally concerned, and prioritises human experience rather than profit

    Say Hello!

    If you would like to get in touch with the organization, you may do so via:  thesignal.asia.

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