Day 2: The Interviewer's Secret Sauce - Creating an Honest Connection

Yo friends! Welcome back to our series on listening and how it can make you a better storyteller.

I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s lesson, where we talked about the importance of asking strong questions.

Today, however, we’re going to take a step back and talk about how to set the stage for a productive interview. We’ll discuss what needs to happen before you ever ask a single question.

Our main goal here is to create a space in which your interviewee feels valued and respected, a space where they feel safe to share openly and honestly without hesitation.

This step is seriously important.

We can do loads of research and ask the best-designed questions in the world, but if the interviewee isn’t inclined to open up and share the good stuff, then there’s not much point.

So here are a few ways that the Stillmotion & Muse teams approach their interviews so that they come away with the material necessary for a great story.

The incredible power of openness and vulnerability

For starters, like I mentioned in yesterday’s lesson, one of early steps in creating a space in which the interviewee feels valued is to do your research. Invest yourself in the process of learning about this person beforehand, and bring that knowledge to the table in your interview.

This shows that you respect their time (because you won’t waste it by asking questions that you could have answered with a google search), and it shows that you’re invested in your craft. It shows that you take this process seriously and want to get the best possible result.

However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating a space that encourages openness and honesty.

The single most effective way to create a space where the interviewer feels valued and open to sharing is… wait for it… to be open and honest yourself. 

Crazy right?

But you’re not just being open and honest about anything. They don’t need to hear about your weird anxiety dreams where you show up for school in nothing but your underwear.

Instead, you want to be open with your purpose, your larger sense of why you’re there, at this moment, telling this story.

When you’re honest about your why, you put all of your cards out on the table. You’re being vulnerable, and this vulnerability leads to the interviewee feeling as if they can open up as well. It creates an open loop where they can reciprocate by being vulnerable themselves.

It’s not just a psychological trick, though. This process of sharing your why should make it clear that you not only care about the interviewee and their time, but that you care deeply about the story you’re telling. This is how they will come to care about the interview as well.

So here are a few examples of the types of things you can share during the pre-interview to help set the stage:

  • Why you were drawn to this story in the first place. What specifically captured your interest and convinced you this was a story worth telling?
  • What you hope to achieve by telling it. What’s your larger purpose here? Does it connect to something specific that happened in your life?
  • How you want audiences to feel when consuming this story. What will they think? What actions will they take as a result of having participated in it?
  • Why you’re drawn to filmmaking and storytelling in general. Is this your calling? Is it important that you tell every story to the best of your ability?

These are just a few sampler questions to get you started. It doesn’t particularly matter what you share. So long as it’s honest and relevant to why you’re there, it should do the trick for creating a space where the interviewee is encouraged to open up.

The only caveat I’d add is that you shouldn’t shy away from vulnerability when you’re sharing. If you feel scared, or even remotely uncomfortable about sharing your real purpose, that’s a sign that you should probably share it. This is how you go deeper and create a more meaningful connection.

With that said, vulnerability is one of those huge topics that could take up a gazillion more articles, so there’s no way we can cover all of it. However, if you’re interested in taking the plunge to learn more, I’d wholeheartedly suggest reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, as it’s one of the most approachable, inspiring books on the topic.

The golden rule of conducting an interview

So now that you’ve led with your purpose and created a space in which the person feels valued and safe to share openly, you’re about ready to dive into the interview itself and ask all of those great questions you’ve cooked up.

But there’s one last thing that you should keep in mind with your interview, and it’s really damn important. In fact, it’s the golden rule at the center of our Conducting Remarkable Interviews course.

Quite simply, the golden rule is this: It’s a conversation, not a performance.

It sounds so simple, but the vast majority of us — whether we’re filmmakers, writers, journalists, podcasters, whatever — conduct our interviews in a way that isn’t particularly natural.

We have our questions at the ready, and we expect answers to those questions. It’s very transactional, and it often leads to stilted interviews where both the interviewer and the interviewee are performing.

So instead, make an effort to treat it as a genuine conversation between two people. This approach leads to more natural speech, more thoughtful answers, and more interesting stories and anecdotes that lead to interesting new places.

Using the “coffee shop filter” to be more conversational

Shifting from the traditional way of conducting interviews to a more conversational one can be difficult for some people, especially more seasoned interviewers who’ve been doing it awhile.

That’s why the Stillmotion team deploys what they call the “coffee shop filter.” It’s a simple framework to tell if they’re leaning too far into performance mode during an interview. Here’s how it works:

When employing the coffee-shop filter, consider if it’s a question you’d be asking—or an interaction you’d be having—with a friend over coffee. If it’s not, then it’s a performance.

Would you take and review notes while having coffee with a friend? Probably not. Nor would you ask questions persistently without sharing something of your own. Conversations have a little bit of back and forth, a sense of rapport.

Any behaviors that would be expected in that casual and friendly situation are fitting for your interview, and anything that would feel out of place needs to be axed.

Wrapping up

That’s all we’ve got for day two. Here’s a quick recap of everything we’ve covered today:

  • Create a space where the interviewee feels valued and respected.
  • Share your own purpose for making the film, as it’ll help create a connection.
  • Don’t be afraid to be open, honest, and vulnerable yourself. Demonstrate the qualities you’d like to see in the interviewee.
  • Treat the interview itself as a conversation between two friends, not as a performance.
  • If you’re ever unsure, deploy the coffee shop filter to see if you’re conversing or performing.

See you tomorrow.