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Getting a Tough Interview to Open Up, Tips from ABC’s George Stephanopoulos

abc_george_stephanopoulos_2_dm_120124_wgThe October issue of Inc. Magazine has a few tips from ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos for getting a better interview.

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The “Good Morning America” anchor and host of “This Week” shared four things he does to get a tough interview to open up. And while they should also work for everyday conversation, his first tip to “prepare extensively” might come across as creepy if you’re talking to someone in line at coffee and you know everything about them already. So use your best judgement.

But if you interview people for a living, it can’t hurt to listen to a man at the top of his game:

1. Prepare extensively. Good preparation leads to better questions. It also demonstrates a genuine interest, Stephanopoulos says. “Knowing what you’re talking about breeds respect on both sides,” he says. Before a 2009 interview about health care with President Barack Obama, Stephanopoulos prepared extensively to show his guest he had deep knowledge of the subject.

2. Don’t be a know-it-all. After all that prep work, you might feel like an expert. But keep things simple by starting with direct, open-ended questions. Then, use your knowledge to get your subject to expand on pat answers. “I used to try to show off how much work I did,” Stephanopoulos says. “But sometimes it was all wind-up and no question.”

3. Ask “Why?” Ask “What do you do?” at a cocktail party, and people go on autopilot. Ask “Why?” and people give fresher, more thoughtful answers. The same is true for television interviews, Stephanopoulos says.

4. Watch for facial cues. During a conversation, facial cues can indicate if someone wants to say more or less about a topic. For instance, Stephanopoulos says he can tell someone is having a new thought when his or her eyes light up. “You can see it more than you can hear it,” he says. Then, he guides the conversation in that direction.

5. Force yourself to be interested. If you’re bored by the person sitting across from you, your audience will be, too. The key is to find the one thing that does pique your curiosity. Stephanopoulos interviews a lot of actors, but he doesn’t always like their movies. His solution? He finds one scene that he finds remarkable for some reason and focuses on it.

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