TED: Marc Pachter: The art of the interview

"Everybody in their lives is really waiting for people to ask them questions, so that they can be truthful about who they are, and how they became what they are."

  • Objective: to explain when people deliver, when they don't, and why. 

  • Older people

    • "It's amazing what people will say when they know how the story turned out."​

      • When the interviewer gets that, they must enable the guest to reflect on how they got there. 

        • All of those accidents that wound up creating the life narrative that they inherited.  ​

  • Kinds of interviews

    • Journalist: Interrogation​

    • Celebrity: More important who's asking than who's answering

    • Empathic: Pachter's approach 

      • "I want to be thought of as empathic. Which is to say, to feel what they wanted to say, and to be an agent of their self-revelation."

        • The interview is a self-portrait, and the interviewer is the brush.

      • Empathy is critical for this kind of interview. 

  • Who makes a great interview[ee] in this context? 

    • Had nothing to do with their intellect ​

      • Some brilliant, some ordinary ​

    • It's energy that creates extraordinary interviews, and extraordinary lives. I'm convinced of it! 

      • Nothing to do with youth. ​

        • A person filled with life force can fill the room and channel extraordinary conversations. ​

  • You want them to believe that they have a story worth sharing 

    • The worst interviews you can ever have are with people who are modest. ​

    • They have to think that they did something, and want to share it. 

  • How do you get through all the barriers? 

    • All of us are public and private beings. If all you're going to get from the interviewee is their public self, there's no point in it. It's commercial.​

      • Don't antagonize, but help them to say what they really want to say and to break out of the cocoon of their public-self. ​

  • 10-15 minute preliminary talks 

    • Never talk before that because if you talk before, you don't get it on the stage.​

  • Beware of stonewalling 

    • Anything you ask they dismiss or turn around  ​

    • The interviewee is giving nothing 

  • Beware: When we talk alone, I'm your audience. When we talk on stage, are we fighting for the attention of the audience? 

    • Don't let this happen. ​

    • Let them win the arm-wrestle

      • The audience is always on the side of the interviewee

  • What is the key that will allow us to proceed? 

    • If we get stuck​

  • Questions about empathy are the questions people have been waiting their whole lives to be asked. 

    • i.e. Asked the world's foremost Thomas Jefferson biographer "Did Jefferson ever disappoint you?" ​; "Was it a problem for you in your life that you were not beautiful?"

      • They are thrilled to get the real facts out. 

  • The key point is empathy, because everybody in their lives is really waiting for people to ask them questions so that they can be truthful about who they are and how they became what they are. 

    • Just be that way with your friends and particularly the older members of your family. ​

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