Make Your Man-On-Street Interviews Stand Out With These Simple Tricks

Make Your Man-On-Street Interviews Stand Out With These Simple Tricks

Written by Lois Lane
🕒 August 26, 2020

Stories that require man-on-street interviews can be the most painstaking experience.

Man-on-street (MOS) interviews consist of begging passersby to weigh-in, and offer anything — ANYTHING — interesting to say. But there are a few effective ways to draw out colorful soundbites that don’t take hours in the hot sun.

First and foremost is the way you approach a stranger to ask them for a comment. Any reporter who has set up a camera on a random sidewalk, and stood patiently holding a mic, knows most people spot the camera and make a concerted effort to avoid it—walking into traffic if they must. 🙄

Body language is key to getting a person to stop and hear your pitch.

So, start off with eye contact and a smile. Then, lead with a small wave.

That trio of actions typically breaks down a person’s defenses. Then, you start with something like, “Hey! I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m working on a story about _____, and was wondering if you could help me out.”

Pro tip: Adding that it will only take two minutes of their time tends to take the pressure off most people. Likewise, saying, “Most of your interview will be covered by video,” can also relieve some pressure.

Now remember, simply getting a person to stop and comment doesn’t mean their soundbite will be interesting or even usable.

That’s where the line of questioning comes into play.

If it’s a topic you know has people fired up, like eliminating downtown parking, first hear their stance. Then, present them with a devil’s advocate question. For example, “What would you say to someone who thinks we don’t need all these parking spots downtown, and thinks more people should walk?”

What if the story you’re covering is about a new cannabis shop potentially coming to town? Another example of a devil’s advocate question is, “What would you say to someone who thinks a legal cannabis shop would lead to more crime?”

This tactic tends to bring out a more spirited response, because the person feels they are convincing someone or even defending their own argument.

Some reporters have been effective in getting MOS interviews by using creative signs.

Standing next to a handmade sign can be one way to make people stop and ask about your story. For example, your sign could ask an eye-catching question or feature a printout of your topic.

You could put two buckets out, one under each question on your sign that reads, “penny for your thoughts.” When people toss a penny into the bucket of their answer, ask them why they picked that one. Let people’s curiosity bring them to you with an interesting sign.

Kids really do say the darnedest things, and sometimes, depending on the story, that can be a great addition to your report. Whether it’s a story about the construction of a new water park, or homeschooling due to COVID-19, a child may offer the most honest and innocent response. Always ask the parent before interviewing the child.

Another way to make your MOS stand out is to speak with people who will be directly affected, but may not know it yet.

If the story is about the city reducing bus routes, hop on that bus. Ask people on board how it would affect them to lose the route they are currently utilizing. If the story is about a new health study on coffee, talk to people walking out of a coffee shop with a latte in hand.

Ultimately, good MOS interviews come from good, clever questions. Make sure you’re not wasting your valuable time with questions that will receive boring answers. And don’t forget to have fun with it!

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