We Have Ways of Making
You Talk

by Jeremy Warshaw

Please do not call me an interviewer. 'Interviewers' are created when someone from human resources gets together for a night of unprotected sex with an Interrogator from Abu Ghraib. I know this for a fact.

Let me illustrate.

I was directing a commercial for the Canada workmen's compensation board and had to 'interview' a recently widowed mother about losing her husband after a workplace accident. I'm about 18 inches away from her and looking directly into her eyes. I can see how close she is to tearing up and I'm near to losing it as well. She pauses, lost in some far away place, and I give her the time to go there.

And then, through my earpiece.....



Apart from being the last time I ever wore an earpiece, I tell you this because the art of the interview is seriously undervalued. A good 'interviewer' won't need to be told how to elicit a response but will rely on his empathy, respect and intuition. If it's to be done well, it has to be a shared journey and cannot be one very superior person in the back seat expecting the driver to take him swiftly to his destination.

You know that moment a day or two before the shoot when it's time to choose the wardrobe. And everyone weighs in because, well, everyone wears clothes. Well, an interview carries with it much the same logic. 'It's just a matter of asking questions and when you've asked one, well, you go on to the next one.' Except you don't. This isn't a sequential process. You aren't cross-examining anyone.  What you are is being curious and what you're doing is building a conversation. It's a gentle, intuitive process and it has its own path and opportunities.

If you really want to unearth the truth, here's what I've found works for a successful excavation:

1) Follow the natural flow of the conversation and don't impose on it a pre-existing structure or sequence. This obligates you to listen and to continue the conversation at the point they left off. It's your job to make the flow as seamless as possible while covering all the areas you need to. But make it flow naturally.

2) 'Listening' is something you do with your eyes as well as your ears. What people say is often not a reflection of what they feel and your eyes will be the best guide to body language that supports or refutes it. Their posture and facial expressions will reveal as much, or maybe more, than their words. All senses should act as a kind of psychic antenna and pick up clues as to their state of mind.

3) If you want to get stuff out of people you will need to reveal stuff about yourself. We all feel more trusting and open if the relationship is somewhat equal and the conversation is not just one sided. Express your empathy, even reveal a similar experience but do something to let your subject know that you get it. They mustn't feel like they have been 'taken in for questioning' and you are not any form of Supreme Being.

4) Aim for as comfortable an environment as possible, and to that end keep the presence of other people (and equipment) on an essential only basis. Whenever you ask real people if they are comfortable with others being present they will always feel obliged to say yes. They don't mean this; they just don't want to be rude.

5) Sometimes, don't always follow up immediately but let an answer linger. The subject will quite often sense that more is needed and be more forthcoming. Silence can be your friend.

6) Your body language and your facial expressions will play a big part in conveying encouragement and creating a safe place. Nothing of much significance gets revealed with out these in place. Stay relaxed, informal and conversational.

7) And finally, and most obviously, you better be interested in and care about people. If you aren't, they will sense this and they will be resistant to share sensitive information with you.

I like to think that if it's in you, I can get it out of you. But I also know that it requires much more finesse than the word 'interviewer' connotes. But If you were to ask me (nicely) what I would prefer to be called, I would give you another word: Jeremy.