Book cover for Talk to Me by Dean Nelson

Talk to Me

by Dean Nelson

★★★★☆

Finished

I don’t have any plans to interview anyone but this was a good read on the things to consider if I ever do. The tone was a touch smug at times but it was a breezy read with plenty of anecdotes to help it flow.

Odds & Ends

Finding a way in

Nelson suggests finding something unusual that proves you have done your research and shows the interviewee that they are in safe hands. One example digs into the craft – Nelson asked about a particularly long sentence in something Gay Talese had written. Looks like it’s reproduced in this article.

Heat and Like

Heat for heat’s sake or heat for light’s sake

This is referenced a few times, the first time as quoted from Chris Wallace. I really like it. “Heat for heat’s sake” is something that’s pleases an audience. I liken it to virality online and pushing for controversy. “Heat for light’s sake,” however, is the process of “making things a little bit difficult for the object of your scrutiny in order to really try to help the audience understand.”

In my comparison to online discourse this would be drawing attention to something in a non-confrontational way for the purposes of greater awareness.

Open Questions

Unsurprisingly open questions are lauded as important devices for getting good answers from interviewers.

What kind of father were you?

What do you think?

There are also lots of examples of asking questions that you already know the answer to in order to keep in control of the interview. This is a powerful technique when combined with the knowledge you’ve learned “on backround.” But if you don’t know then stick to open questions:

Did it change you in some way? How so?

Always end an interview in this way

  1. “Can you tell me the exact spelling of your name”

This is a surprising question to most and even if someone has a “conventional” name confirming regardless will ensure that the printed result won’t upset them in some way. At the least you will prove that you’re thorough.

  1. “Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t ask?”

Give your source a chance to tell you something that they were hesitating to bring up.

  1. “Who else should I talk to?”

I love this because it’s all about referrals and loops. “There’s always someone who knows more, someone behind the scenes, someone who isn’t quoted or sought out very often.”

  1. “May I contact you later once I write this in case I need some more information or clarification?”

Leaving the door open with a source is likely to pay off in the future.

Creativity budget

As per Anne Lamott,

each of us has a hundred dollars of creativity to spend each day. How will we spend that hundred dollars? If we just have two hours available to write today, we could spend some of that time on the internet […] Then we can focus on getting our work done—wisely spending the remaining dollars.

You can’t bank this money, “You get a hundred dollars today”

The interview is not about you

Above all a good interviewer leaves their ego at the door. An interview is not about the interviewer. In the same vein one should learn to be comfortable with silence if it helps draw out interesting details from a source.

An audience with…

When interviewing and unsure about your source you should consider your audience and try and focus on one person in particular. Consider what they would want to know from this source and take away from the interview. This holds for all writing.