Christian Long

Marc Pachter: The Art of the Interview

In TED Talks on May 20, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Reflection by MIKE N.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Marc Pachter:  The Art of the Interview

Marc Pachter’s talk on the Art of the Interview was very eye-opening to me, because I have had the opportunity to interview several actors, most notably William Shatner. Pachter talks about the best – and worst – ways to conduct an interview.

Pachter begins by giving some examples of the interview he’s conducted. The first person he interviewed was 97-year-old George Abbott. This man is famous for being silent during interviews, and only saying one or two words. Pachter, however, was able to get him to open up and fill the room with energy. In fact, this was so surprising that Abbott’s ex-girlfriends actually called Pachter to get him to prove that he got Abbott to talk – because she never could.

Pachter then gives the story of his worst interview – William L. Shirer. This is the journalist who wrote “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” Within six months this man had met both Hitler and Gandhi – but he was too modest. He was so modest, in fact, that Pachter couldn’t get him to say anything other than that he “just happened to be there.” After this, Pachter has adopted a new policy: never interview a modest person. They have nothing to talk about because they are not willing to express their opinion, or talk about something great that they have done.

Then comes the part of the talk that has helped me the most.

Pachter says that it all comes down to how to get through all the barriers that we all have. He says that there is no point in interviewing a person’s public self because it is pre-programmed and does not really represent the true person.

Then Pachter says the one line of this talk that has by far helped me the most:

He tries to get the people he is interviewing to break out of their public self.

He goes on to say that conducting interviews is an amazing privilege because you get to experience this moments as the interviewee breaks out of their shell and exposes their true self.

Pachter ends by stating that the key point is empathy. Everyone, is just waiting for people to ask them questions. I thought about my own life, and this statement really is true. As I go about my day, I do want people to ask me questions about what I am doing or know about, so that I can express my expertise or have a great conversation with someone.

People want to be truthful about who they are, and how they became that person – all you have to do is ask the right questions.


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