Chaikhana: GIVE AND TAKE

A successful interview is always a two-way channel where the dialogue helps you walk away with a better understanding of the other person

<b>Chaikhana</b>: GIVE AND TAKE
I started interviewing people I admire, probably about eight years ago. What started as a personal project, I implemented at work by developing a blog, creating an editorial calendar and finding ways to engage the entire ecosystem of stakeholders. Suddenly, we were talking to business partners, to customers, to leaders within the company and to subject matter experts. The blog took off in ways I never imagined possible. This was before content marketing had reached its tipping point. It was a lot of hard work and like any project that has to be birthed; much of the work has to be done by you. I still go back and visit that site and it fills me with a sense of pride that it continues to flourish.

Over the last year, however, there wasn’t a marketing agenda around the content, or a specific call to action. It was purely around the interest to showcase people who were moving the dot. These were people who had an underlying belief in their work. Writers, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, poets, business leaders, sin­gers, activists and other extraordinary folks who would, during the course of the conversation, transfer that contagious quest for something more.

I have learnt some invaluable lessons about the art of the interview. Perhaps, you have a blog. Perhaps, you don’t. At some point, we will take turns and sit on both sides of the table — for a job, your college or at your kid’s school.

Curiosity

The more curious you are about the person being interviewed, the better the results. The importance of research cannot be overstated. With information so readily available, it is simply unacceptable to be unprepared. Reading their book, watching their movie, doing research around their company, checking out their work; the more you understand their point of view, the easier it becomes to formulate the interview framework.

It is quite disarming when you replay something they might have written or said. It also promotes trust and credibility. Doing your homework also means that you can keep up with the ensuing conversation much faster and set it to context.

Conversation

There is a wonderful quote by William Shatner that says, “I sometimes find that in interviews you learn more about yourself than the other person learnt about you.” Though your questions are your mile markers, a good interview is not a Q&A. It is a conversation between two people. The minute you walk into it with a pre-determined view on the outcome, the purpose is defeated. You have just set yourself up for a mediocre and rote process where neither you, nor the other person gains much.

Of course, you can use your questions as a guide and conversations are very difficult to format into a column, but it is worth the trouble. Good interviews are a dialogue and stand out in its sincerity. They may not be provocative. They may not get the most tweets, likes or pluses, but they stand the test of time. It is therapy that leaves both people thoughtful and enriched.

Connection

Ramana Maharshi wisely states, “Silence is also a conversation.” The best interviewers are great listeners. They know when to step into a pause. They know when to lead and when to follow. An interview does not need to become an interrogation. With any interview, the final outcome is to walk away with a better understanding of the person. You can’t do that when both of you are sitting on the edge of your chair and wondering when the axe will fall.

Recollection

This is the hardest part of an interview: Remembering the essential arc of the story. Whether you write in your notebook, record the conversation or use your laptop, the hardest part of the interview is paring the relevant content.

Simply put, now you have to structure your story. It is especially tricky, as you don’t want to lose the narrative or the main storyline. Though editing can be tedious and time consuming, when done well, it can become something you can be proud to call your own.

Inspiration

Ian MacKaye says, “I’ve done thousands of interviews in my life, and it is a format that I quite enjoy, because I think of questions in interviews as an opportunity to sort of gauge my growth in a way. It gives me an idea of how I’m navigating this world that I’m in.”

When you start with the notion that learning something new or understanding a different point of view is the objective, every interview leaves an imprint. Every interview that I have worked on has inspired me in different ways.

Henry Longfellow had put it so aptly when he said, “A single conversation across the table with a wise person is better than ten years mere study of books.”

(Shaku Selvakumar is a US-based marketing and digital communi­cations expert; and founder of Coeuredge, a digital experience company)

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