How to Communicate by Thinking Like a Journalist

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on November 9, 2007
Tags: , , , ,

audio recorder.

Once upon a time, the editor of a small, community, mom-and-pop magazine convinced me to stop studying journalism when he told me I wasn’t aggressive enough to be a reporter.

Five years later, that same editor was offering me a staff reporter position at the mag, trying to convince me to leave my stable marketing gig in the world of academic book publishing, apparently having completely forgotten that young college student whose dreams he had so thoughtlessly dashed.

In the interim, I had read The Art of the Interview by Lawrence Grobel, and had since made use of the skills I’d learned therein on stories I’d worked on for this editor’s magazine. The interviews I were conducting by then were a lot of fun…long and languorous and fascinating. I credit this book to some of my improvement and success on this front.

One of the most important lessons I learned when reading Grobel’s book was to be prepared. “The most important thing going into an interview is your knowing so much about it that you wouldn’t even need the interview,” he quotes from another notable in the field.

Not only does thorough preparation allow one the time for more in-depth discussion, but the mere fact that one is prepared allows one a greater confidence in approaching their subject.

Since self-confidence in general has never been my forte, I began thinking of how I could apply lessons learned about journalistic practices to my everyday life. Which made this quote leap out at me upon my second reading of the book: “‘Your class wasn’t about meeting celebrities,’ one student e-mailed me. ‘It was about learning how to communicate. It was about confronting new comfort levels. It was about self-confidence.'”

And so, what you can learn from the journalistic masters:

  • Take a Deep Breath. As terrified as you may be, your interview subject is often just as nervous. If you can remember that, the balance of power will shift to something a bit more equal.
  • Don’t Worry About Stumbling Through Small Talk. Just touch upon everyone’s favorite subject — themselves! Not to say that we’re all a bunch of narcissistic fools, but we’re often more comfortable and confident when talking about what we know best. So ask a lot of open-ended questions of your subject, and the conversation follow smoothly from there.
  • The Well is Bottomless. Like the most tenacious investigative reporter, dig deeper. Follow lines of conversation and interesting asides through to their logical conclusions. Not only will you learn things you may not have known before, but it will prove you to be a fine listener.
  • Be Sure That This is the Next Big Story. Improving your listening skills will only make you a better conversationalist in the long run. If you are truly concentrating on your subject — rather than waiting for your chance to jump in with your own one-up story — your partner-in-discourse will eventually return the favor. So treat the person your talking with as if they’re your most fascinating subject ever. If you learn to enjoy conversation, you’ll completely forget to worry about it!

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