Here’s a mini masterclass on interviewing, which I gathered from biographer Walter Isaacson’s appearance on the Lex Fridman Podcast last week.
Walter was there primarily to share stories and lessons learned over his career. But when Lex asked him about his process, I started jotting notes. (Youtube: https://rb.gy/8ryil)
I’ve boiled down my notes into the following 4 tips. Each tip is followed by some quotes from Walter.
𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗶𝗽 #𝟭: 𝗘𝘅𝗽𝗹𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝘀𝗼𝗺𝗲𝗼𝗻𝗲’𝘀 𝗰𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗶𝘁𝘆 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘆𝗼𝘂’𝗹𝗹 𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗻 𝘄𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗺𝗮𝗸𝗲𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗺 𝘂𝗻𝗶𝗾𝘂𝗲.
Walter Isaacson: “Step one for me is trying to figure out how the mind works. What causes Einstein to make that leap? Or Elon Musk to say ‘stainless steel’ while he’s looking at a carbon fiber rocket? How do you make the mental leap?... Smart people are a dime a dozen… What makes people creative? What makes them take imaginative leaps? That’s the key question you got to ask.”
𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗶𝗽 #𝟮: 𝗜𝗻𝘃𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗴𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗮𝗻 𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗮 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗽𝗲𝗼𝗽𝗹𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝗯𝗲 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝗮𝗿𝗺𝗲𝗱.
Walter Isaacson: “…When I was younger… I’ll see videos of me at news things where I’m always trying to interject a question. So you learn to be quieter sometimes. I haven’t mastered it. I haven’t learned it enough. You learn to be naturally curious. Many reporters today when they ask a question, they’re either trying to play gotcha, or trying to get a news scoop, or trying to ‘gig’ something that can make a lead.”
“If you actually are curious, and you really want to know the answer to a question, then people can tell that you asked it because you want the answer, not because you’re playing a game with them.”
𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗶𝗽 #𝟯: 𝗚𝗶𝘃𝗲 𝗽𝗲𝗼𝗽𝗹𝗲 𝘁𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗮𝗹 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗺𝘀𝗲𝗹𝘃𝗲𝘀.
Walter Isaacson: “Don’t try to fill the silences… You can never go wrong by staying silent if there’s nothing you have to say. Not something I’ve mastered, but I do -when I’m a reporter- try to master that. …Don’t ask complex questions. Don’t interject. And when somebody hasn’t fully answered the question, don’t say, ‘-Well, let me-’ You just stay silent. And then they’ll keep talking.”
𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗶𝗽 #𝟰: 𝗞𝗲𝗲𝗽 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗰𝗵𝗿𝗼𝗻𝗼𝗹𝗼𝗴𝗶𝗰𝗮𝗹 𝘁𝗼 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝗰𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗿 𝗱𝗲𝗲𝗽𝗲𝗿 𝗶𝗻𝘀𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀.
Walter Isaacson: “Make it chronological. Everybody in the 40th year of their life has grown from the 39th year and the 38th year, and so you want to show how people evolve and grow. I had the greatest of all nonfiction narrative editors, Alice Mayhew at Simon Schuster, who among other things, created All the President’s Men with Woodward and Bernstein. But she had a note she’d put in the margins of my books… And it meant ‘All things in good time.’ Keep it chronological. If it’s good enough for the Bible, it’s good enough for you.”
[Originally posted on Linkedin]