Finding Art In An Interview

 

As an artist, it is tempting to tell all the stories that I am tasked to tell with the words that I think are best. However, the truth is that most of the time what I have to say isn’t as interesting as what somebody else has to say. Given the option between what I can say about how great a retiring member of the Duke Board of Trustees, or what the President of the Board has to say I think the best option is obvious.

Since joining the team at Amazing Studios, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct hundreds of interviews. I’ve sat down with politicians and teachers, lawyers and farmers, athletes and prisoners. Everybody has a story, and every story is worth listening to. My privilege, is to find that story and get them to tell it. I’ve learned a lot from these incredible interactions, and I’d like to share a few of my interview discoveries here.

Be comfortable

Find a setting that is relaxing for everyone. I like to take my time when setting up and spend that time putting the interviewee at rest. Talk about the weather, or a special interest that they might have. Share some details from your life, be vulnerable and let them see you care. It is imperative that the person that you are going to speak to knows that you are a real person and that they can open up to you. Which leads me to…

Just be you!

There is a tendency when sitting down for an interview to put on a character. “Hi, I’m Tom Brokaw, and this is an interview” is the character that I am often tempted to fall into. The problem is, when I’m acting like Tom Brokaw, I tend to try and ask questions like Tom Brokaw, and when I ask questions about Tom Brokaw the interview gets really boring really fast. If you don’t find the career path that led them to becoming the greatest investment banker of our time interesting, don’t ask. Ask the questions that you find interesting, and really delve into things that you can both connect with.

Don’t Over-prepare

This one might seem counter intuitive, but it makes all the difference. When I’m prepping for an interview, I keep my research general. I might read the simple bio listed on their website, or a short article they’ve written. I don’t want to know every little detail about their lives, I want to know just enough to peek my interest to learn more. I find out just enough to ask the right questions, but not so much that I would already know their answers. As a general rule, I don’t write my questions down. I create a simple list of general things that I want to learn, and then just let the conversation flow from there. This approach helps me to stay engaged in the conversation. If I am learning something, then I’ll be asking the questions that my audience wants to learn as well.

Sometimes, just let there be silence

I can’t claim this tip as my own, I had a professor that taught me this one. He called it diarrhea of the mouth. As people, we hate silence, especially awkward silence. Our tendency is to fill that silence with anything that will end it. So when I am in interviews, if I think that the person has more to say on something, I will be silent after they finish a statement. What usually happens is they will sit for a moment, then start to answer the original question again in a more concise and often more insightful way. We have found some of the best nuggets from these moments of silence.

Interviewing is an art form. Just like painting, or cinematography, it takes patience and practice to get it right. I hope these techniques will be as helpful to you as they have been to me.

-Peter