Research shows that we interrupt the person we’re listening to within 17 seconds. Can that be true? I tested that statistic, and it’s more like 10 seconds. Blame our brains. We want to contribute to the conversation. It makes us feel relevant and important and smart. Interruption also gets in the way of a great story.
During my 25-plus years as a writer, I’ve interviewed more than 6,500 people for books, articles, speeches, blogs, videos – you name it. Early in my career, while conducting man-on-the-street interviews for a small-town newspaper, I learned one of the keys to a great interview: Let people ramble. Think of rambling as a warm-up to the good stuff. It’s like jumping around in the gym to loosen up those muscles before you start pumping iron. Give your interviewee some space to warm up, relax, and trust that you will listen. The most meaningful moments bubble up through the rambling.
Here’s another tip: When the person stops rambling, allow that uncomfortable pause in the conversation to hover between you. Slowly count to 10 – or 17 if you trust the research. Your interviewee may just interrupt the silence with that one critical piece of information, such as the hook that launches your story or the scene that captures your protagonist’s victory.
My two simple tips for getting a better interview? Let ’em ramble. And then let ’em ramble some more.