Five Marks of a Great Interviewer


There’s a scene in the movie Life or Something Like It where Lanie Kerrigan (Angelina Jolie) ignores what is “expected,” and chooses her own questions to ask the legendary TV personality Deborah Connors (Stockard Channing).  It, of course, made for a great interview.

{from the script:
Producer:  You’ll find your list of questions in here.
Lanie:  Oh, I have my own questions.
Producer:  Uh, Deborah Connors doesn’t answer any questions she doesn’t already know.}

Bob Morris

I thought of this as I read, quite thoroughly, Bob Morris’ interview with Laura Vanderkam, author of the book 168 Hours, on our blog.  (Read it here).  Bob won’t like it that I praise him so visibly, but for those who like to read interviews, let me state the obvious:  he is a master at the art of conducting an interview.  What does he do?

First, he actually has studied his interview subject – thoroughly. He has read their books, and paid careful attention to their backgrounds.  This greatly informs his choice of questions.  If you read many of his interviews, you will see that he does not use “boilerplate” questions.

Second, he crafts questions from the content of the books of the interview subjects. Because he has actually read their material, he knows what they said, and he asks them to summarize key concepts, and then to elaborate on their insights.

Third, he interviews “from overflow.” There is no predicting what other authors, poets, or other sources will be used to frame a question.  And every such “unexpected” question fits the interview perfectly.  For example, in his interview with Ms. Vanderkam, he quotes from English poet William Ernest Henley, and other authors/people that Ms. Vanderkam profiles or quotes in her own work.

Fourth, he puts each interview subject into a larger context. He realizes that no author, no book, stands alone, and he draws from his wide-ranging knowledge in every interview.  By the way, I don’t know the exact count, but Bob has posted dozens of interviews with authors on our blog, and many more are on the way.

Fifth, he starts by choosing interview subjects that he respects. It is clear, in all of his interviews, that he respects the authors and their work.  I happen to know this about him – he loves to learn, and he respects authors who write books that are worth our time.  This respect comes through in his interviews.

In all of these, there is one very obvious, yet critical factor – he prepares for each interview, one interview at a time.

We are fortunate to have these interviews on our blog.  Authors are finding his interviews valuable to them, and many of them link to these interviews on their own web sites.  And, most of all, reading his interviews adds greatly to our own never-ending pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

So, thanks Bob.

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