The Art of the Interview


Do you read interviews? I could argue successfully that publishing interviews can go either way in terms of interest.

Two ingredients to a good conversation are a subject that has done
interesting things, and has an intriguing point of view, and a set of
questions that demonstrate the interviewer is interested in exploring
some of those projects and has a certain point of view.

I'm thinking about Terry Gross at NPR, Charlie Rose with PBS, and Ira Glass in This American Life.

There are other characteristics that can make an interview pop.
Preparation about the subject matter and the person on the part of the
interviewer, a certain degree of curiosity, and creativity. There's a
time and place for open questions, and one for more specific ones.

The whole experience of reading feels (almost) like being there, watching the people while they're having this conversation.

Do you consider yourself primarily a poet?

Funny what you can come up with when you cross the names Nora Ephron and Bob Dylan in a search. The two have been in the headlines recently for very different reasons, and here they are together in the transcript of an interview that took place in the late summer of 1965.

That question set in motion an exploration of Dylan's creative
process. There is as much information in what is not said there, than in
the answers. It is revealing of the personality and thought process
without ascribing a specific formula to it.

Art should be where people hang out, to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. We'll get back to this concept.

Do you think that’s a danger in teaching writing – formulaic scripts?

This is from an interview with Francis Ford Coppola [hat tip Robin Sloan]
where the director, producer, and screenwriter reveals tidbits through
which we discover the artist. Anisse Gross says the conversation went on
for five hours, and over dinner.

Gross was impressed by how humble and open Coppola was throughout.

The answer to the question in the subhead gives us some white space to play with:

Dramatic structure and theater plays are thousands of years old. It’s
amazing how much dramatic structure is influenced by the Greeks. The
novel’s only a few hundreds of years old, but in the novel there’s still
so much room for invention.

And later he guides us with: A movie is like writing a haiku. About the Web:

The only thing about the Internet is that the decorum and the
politeness really hasn’t been worked out yet. You can say anything you
want and there’s no accountability. I’d like a little bit of politeness.
To be a human being.

The character of the person behind the artist comes across clearly.
The whole interview is a joy to read, do it leaning forward with
anticipation. You may find the better question to how to make do with
where you are in your work, business, or life.

How do you get someone to tell you a story?

One of the easiest ways, according to radio host Ira Glass in this interview with Slate, is to tell them a story yourself.

Glass talks about Terry Gross and how she thinks through the other person's experience when asking questions. Since Gross often interviews famous people, her art is looking for that angle that will get them to say something they haven't said before.

While when Glass interviews someone, it is often their first interview, so how to get the plot of the story is his main focus. Relating to that person with a story helps them tell their story.


Asking good questions is an art. One that can be learned with
practice. Because good questions reveal as much about the person asking
them — their story and intent — as it does about the intended
recipient of the question.

Revealing yourself to others is an important part of the process we call "building relationships," from which we build credibility and rapport.
I wrote that more than four years ago here. I'm particularly proud of
closing the gap on the jobs I'd like to have part of that post.


The why of asking good question is that we need to learn to write and
design to the way things are. Change is part of life, and thus
business. The way we respond to change is where we should focus, not so much the "it" itself.

How an organization got to where it is is as important as how it will address where to go from here.


[image of Yoda making sense of things]

[updated from archives]


Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a
speaking engagement click here.