What are your sound bites?
Anymore when I'm listening to or reading something, I find it most intriguing to stop and recall where else I've come across something else. Today the loop closed between notorious interviewer Cal Fussman and the founder of StoryCorps, Dave Isay.
Fussman spent a significant portion of his career interviewing some of the greatest people of our time for Esquire's "What I've Learned" column: Robert Deniro, Muhammad Ali, George Clooney, Jeff Bezos, Woody Allen, Sigourney Weaver and many more.
Isay's organization empowers everyday people in an environment to ask deep and meaningful questions with people they care about and love. And regularly makes me cry when aired on NPR.
Both being in the business of the interview, they have seen and learned things about how you break beyond the surface of conversation into uncharted territory.
Cal regaled Tim Ferriss (podcast) about the time he interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev, a former leader of the Soviet Union. After preparing for weeks for his hour plus interview with Gorbachev, due to high demand for the former president's time, Fussman found out he would only have ten minutes. There was no time to reorder his discussion and he was convinced the column wouldn't yield any worthwhile content. When Gorbachev sat down with Cal, he could tell Gorbachev was prepared and knew what questions were coming. Everyone wanted to ask about the collapse of communism, the cold war, nuclear weapons, etc.
So Cal abruptly went in another direction and said to him, "tell me about your father." Completely blindsided, Gorbachev started down memory lane and told Cal an incredibly personal story. When his publicist came in after ten minutes, Gorbachev said, [pointing] "I want to talk with him." And sent her away. He repeated this act multiple times, continuing well beyond their allotted time, which gave Cal what he needed for the column because he took the discussion to places that were unexpected.
Reflecting back on the interview Cal said, "I learned something important that day. 'First you go for the heart, then you go for the head and then you'll have a pathway to the soul.'"
Enter Dave Isay
While being interview by Krista Tippett through On Being, Isay and her talked about something similar. Tippett begins every show by asking people about, "the spiritual or religious background of their childhood." While the show often has a spiritual or religious bent to it, she revealed there is another reason why she asks it, "The real reason for me that the question is essential is that — where it plants people in themselves... I don’t have that shared experience with somebody I’m talking to. But it opens them up in a place that’s softer, and more searching. And then it makes other things possible later."
Isay reflected warmly on this point and responded, "I mean, I think people have their set pieces... and probably no one has ever been asked before about their, you know, religious background growing up, so immediately, you’re throwing them out of that whatever it is, like the 'skip on the record player' that they’re used to telling the same stories over and over again." I loved that skip of the record player comment. To me it marked the moments when life is cruising along and then something unanticipated comes along.
Whether its Mikhail Gorbachev ready to talk about perestroika, the collapse of communism or nuclear arsenals; or Chris LeBeau prepared to talk about working for a bank involved with startups, doing yoga or the latest bars I've visited around town, we all have our soundbites we are ready to kick out at a moment's notice.
Its when someone asks us a question we didn't expect, that a different self emerges. While I don't want to throw out overly personal questions to people when the time isn't right, I hope to keep Cal's, heart then head then soul formula top-of-mind as I move through life working to strengthen and build friendships.
Go Forth Boldly