Last week, we proposed the idea that when you are interviewing
someone, you are really conducting two interviews at the same
time: the professional interview (why the subject is notable
or famous - their book, their achievements, etc.) and the
personal interview (who they are as a person, their personality
Let’s go one step further. When you realize that your conversation
is slipping into a meaningless blur of rhetoric, and your
subject is being perfectly candid about their accomplishments,
and are still boring, go for the jugular. Ask the ‘other’
subject of your interview, the person, a question that might
have the possibility of enlivening the interview a bit more.
Here’s a brief example. Some years ago, I found myself interviewing
a young man who was one of the founders of a Gay-Straight
Alliance at one of our local high schools. By all accounts,
this should be a juicy, rich subject. But I discovered about
10 minutes into the interview, that despite all my efforts,
the young man was stiff, tense, and - sadly - really, really
boring. I don’t mean repetitive, but really dull, tedious
and uninteresting. But the subject ought to right and jump
out at listeners. He just droned on and on “...we founded
our group in 1990, and we have blah-blah number of members,
and we believe blah, blah, blah...”
It was the worst kind of public affairs interview imaginable,
it was live, and I could listeners reaching for their dials.
It occurred to me that I had neglected to interview ‘the person’
and not just the activist. I gently interrupted the young
man and asked “why did YOU get involved in this work?”
There was a very long pause, and the young man replied “...at
age 17, I was elected class president. I lettered in two sports.
I had a full scholarship to Stanford. I was a Merit Scholar
was voted most likely to succeed by my class.” He paused again,
thinking deeply, then added, “...but when I told my parents
I was Gay, they kicked me out of my house - at age 16. I had
to find a place to live and get on with my life. No 16 year
old should have to go through that...” There was a long pause
- this time, my choice; I couldn’t have added anything to
the emotion in the young man’s voice.
If I had continued to ask the professional questions about
the young man’s activities and what his group did, the interview
would have remained dull to the point of distraction. But
by directing a question to THE PERSON, rather than the professional
expert, we got a powerful moment of broadcasting.
So, when your interview seems to be bogging down in tedious
details, go for the jugular. As the personal question.
More on question order next week.
In the meantime, inhale. Pause. Gently exhale.