The narrative guide advises that a great interview cannot rely solely on “serendipity and intuition.” The “art” and “science” of a good interview includes “careful planning, good journalistic habits and hard work.” “Talk to Me” offers tools of the talk trade along with insightful and interesting anecdotes.
While most consider the art of the interview as the “bedrock of journalism,” Nelson notes that interviews are not designated solely to journalists, but to anyone seeking truthful information.
“Insurance adjustors, social workers, lawyers, nurses, teachers, investigators, therapists, podcast hosts, customer service representatives, bankers, and police officers spend a good part of each day asking questions,” he writes. “And that’s what an interview is: a purposeful series of questions that lead to understanding, insight, and perspective on a given topic.”
Nelson begins with a simple premise – quality questions get quality answers.
“Great interviews just don’t happen,” he writes. “It isn’t all charisma, coincidence and chemistry. You have to be intentional about what you’re after.”
But what is a good interview?
“Good interviews are simply themselves,” he writes. “They’re not acting. They’re curious. They know how to be quiet and listen. The authentic ones who ask good questions are the ones who extract profound answers instead of cliché’s, and who get past the surface and into something that rarely gets explored.”
According to Nelson, interviews are like stories. They have a “beginning, a middle with a climactic point, and an end.” And while we seek to learn about a subject, interviews are themselves teachers.
“All interviews teach us something,” he writes. “There is the content of the interview, of course, where you learn something new. But there is the dynamic of the interview, the exciting part where you engage deeply with another human being, and each time you do it you learn how to do it better.”
Chapters introduce the whom and why of the interview and follow through to keep the conversation rolling. “Talk to Me” touches upon the importance of “what’s most uncomfortable may be the most important,” and the security of note-taking and recording for accuracy and protection from accusations of libel and slander.
Nelson also reviews important terms and phrases and suggests that egos should be remain on another planet when interviewing those you “love” and those you “loathe.” Super interesting – and fun – case studies showcase the success and failure of some of the very best in the world of journalism.
In addition to learning how to ask better questions, “Talk to Me” guides its readers into understanding how to transcend the level of an interview that merely gathers information into the stratosphere of otherworldliness.
“When interviews are done well, they have the potential for a human connection that goes past the level of merely gathering information,” he writes. “Good interviews reveal information, but great interviews reveal so much more. They reveal humanity, struggle, victory, joy, grief, and sometimes a glimpse of transcendence.”
“Talk to Me” is a must read for everyone looking to deepen their ability to ask pertinent questions that get to the truth.
Nelson has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe, USA Today, San Jose Mercury News, San Diego Union Tribune, Christianity Today, Christian Century, San Diego Magazine, and Westways Magazine. The Minneapolis native also founded and hosts the annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea.