Photo by Alexis Lamster via CC (BY) license

I Wanted to Keep on Eating.

John Maeda, designer, technologist, author, and executive, is masterful. Last night I had the chance to watch him interview Walker & Company Founder and CEO, Tristan Walker.

Tristan gave a terrific interview. After one of his responses, John said something along the lines of, “it’s like an incredible dessert that you just want to keep eating.”


And that’s how I felt about their entire exchange. I didn’t want it to end.

Walking home, I thought about what made the interview so enjoyable. I wanted to pinpoint takeaways I could use for my own interviews with guests on my podcast, Curious Minds.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Warm us up. John began with a six-question lightning round that started with, “Tristan, blueberries or strawberries?” and ended with, “Tristan, open-source or proprietary software?” Next, he launched into three things he and Tristan had in common and asked then asked Tristan to talk a bit about each one. With this approach, John quickly warmed up his guest and the audience at the same time. Brilliant!
  2. Be fully present. I’m a big fan of mindfulness and meditation. I’ll just put that out there. I also listen to a lot of interviews and attend as many as I can. I’ve never seen or felt someone to be as fully present as John Maeda. He listened fully, observed carefully, responded thoughtfully, and connected completely. It was beautiful to watch how much respect he showed for Tristan and the audience. And I would guess that much of it came from how prepared he was for the interview. While he made it all look so easy, he clearly had spent time thinking about Tristan, the audience, and his goals for the interview.
  3. Hover gently. John frequently used the word “hover” when he wanted to return to something Tristan said. He’s say, “let’s hover on that some more,” that being whatever topic they were discussing. It was clear he wanted to clarify, to go at the topic from another perspective, and to encourage Tristan to say more. By “hovering,” he managed to push Tristan on what he was saying in encouraging and respectful ways. It was beautiful to watch.
  4. Exercise humility. John created a thoughtful and caring space for Tristan to share his experiences, thoughts, and feelings. He was egoless. While John could easily have made the interview about him — in fact, Tristan tried several times to engage John in that way — he never went there. And it was clear that he didn’t need to. He wanted the interview to be what it should be — about Tristan and his accomplishments.
  5. Optimize creatively. At the end of the interview, event attendees lined up to ask questions Tristan questions. Per usual, we didn’t have enough time for everyone to ask and then have Tristan respond. Rather than turn anyone away, John got creative. He asked each person for his or her question, and he wrote each one down. Quickly, he combined similar questions and then asked Tristan each one. He respected the questioners, Tristan, the audience, and the event organizers. Wow!

If you’ve seen or heard an interviewer do something that you’ve enjoyed, please let me know. I’m always trying to improve my interview skills.

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