the art of the interview - how to be a killer journalist

The production assistant hands me my notes and I skim over the pages memorizing the important things; names, places, dates, etc.  The director yells “action!” and even though it’s been a long day and I’m tired, the lights come on, I smile big for the cameras and open with my intro before diving into the first question. 

Except there is no camera, there is just me, and the person or people that I’m about to interview for a feature story I’m writing.  The notes are a questionnaire that I just glanced over in front of their door before I knocked on it.  It has in fact been a long day though, and this introvert is about to smile the smile of a thousand Oprahs for the next hour.

I find that in my ‘real life’ conversations with people, I tend to do a lot of talking, it’s in my nature, I can’t help it, it must be some sort default setting.  Offering my opinions, advice, and anecdotes at the right intervals to create a perfectly balanced conversation at a cocktail party, a coffee shop or over dinner is my jam. 

Am I always actively listening instead of just waiting for my turn to speak?  Sadly, not always, but I try, I really try to be present and give my conversational counterparts the attention they deserve.  At this point, I’ve conducted dozens of formal interviews, I know, I know, not the most impressive number, I have a lot to go before becoming Barbara Walters’ successor.  But still, I’ve done enough to be able to really hone my craft and become a good listener.

That’s the key, listening, and letting people talk their little hearts out, but always being able to keep it contained and reigning them back in if they veer off course.  Going off on tangents is a natural human phenomenon but when certain questions must be answered, it’s necessary to naturally bring the conversation back to the topic at hand.

So, what have I learned from conducting all these interviews?  It’s never about you, and it’s always about them, so even if you feel the urge to make a relatable comment or tell a similar story, don’t!  What else?  Wait for your turn to speak, as much as you want to interrupt with your irrefutable nuggets of wisdom, don’t!  And lastly, be the sounding board for those who desire to be heard, to be seen.  Being a witness to someone’s existence is in my option, the greatest gift you can offer.

As a byproduct of the work that I do, I confess I've become an interview style conversationalist, posing questions, and then adding questions to my question when conversing with people who look like they have something to say.  It's made me a more giving person I think, and for that I am grateful.

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