Part 1 of how a video production crew works: behind the scenes at ask this old house

This post is part of a series in which Influencers go behind the scenes lớn explain in detail one aspect of their work. Read all the stories here & write your own (please include the hashtag #BehindTheScenes in the body of your post).

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Whether I"m conducting a live sầu on-air interview with a CEO, or sussing out answers from sources on background, I"m constantly asking questions. And I love it. As long as I can rethành viên, I"ve sầu always been inquisitive, which has won me friends, who"ve sầu been flattered by my interest, & annoyed others, who found it invasive sầu.

Over the course of my career at CNBC, at Fortune Magazine before that, và even bachồng lớn the high school newspaper, I"ve sầu been working lớn figure out how to lớn ask better questions. Questions for which I’ll get interesting, surprising answers. Answers which teach me something, break news, advance a story, reveal someone"s interests, or simply help me get khổng lồ know someone better.

I try khổng lồ learn every day how to ask better questions by watching my colleagues, the best in the biz, and talking through interviews with my patient và experienced bosses.

Inquire, don"t interrogate

The same question can sound lượt thích an attack or an invitation – it"s all about tone. And I am shocked by how much of a difference a smile makes when asking a question you know someone doesn"t want lớn answer. This is something that my colleague Carl Quintinilla is brilliant at: he doesn"t take an aggressive posture or change his tone when he"s asking something tough, he just smiles và puts his interview subject on the spot. But he"s doing it in such a graceful manner, the folks he"s talking to don"t seem lớn realize he"s just turned on an interrogation spotlight.

This is especially true when I’m asking questions on background (meaning the answers will never be attributed khổng lồ my source but are to help me understand the terrain). In those cases, my curiosity must be evident – và true. When my sources feel I am pressing too hard for some confidential insight into lớn their industry, my go-to defense is, “What?! I’m genuinely curious khổng lồ know!”

Don"t underestimate the power of surprise

Baông xã when I was a reporter at Fortune Magazine I learned my then-trùm Andy Serwer"s effective technique: ask a question that"s out of left field. It worked when he interviewed everyone from Miông chồng Jagger, to Larry Ellison, to lớn Carl Icahn. People are often so surprised, they"ll answer frankly & honestly, before they have a chance to think to go with the prepared PR-babble that"s oh-so predictable và dull.

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*Really* Listen

If I get through a menu of questions I"ve sầu prepared, it"s a sure sign that I"m not paying enough attention to lớn my interview subject. What"s infinitely better is reacting specifically to lớn what"s being said. I always need to vì my homework lớn prep on everything I want khổng lồ address in an interview, but if I don"t deviate from the plan then I"m not doing my job.

Don"t "Ask" with a statement – just get to the point already

Everyone has been at those Q&A sessions where someone inevitably stands up và "asks" a long, rambling question designed to demonstrate his own knowledge rather than seek khổng lồ gain knowledge from the expert. It"s a waste of everyone"s time. Journalists bởi vì it all the time – và I suffered through this phase as well.

I found a certain security in burying my tough question in several sentences khổng lồ show just how much homework I"d done about disappointing earnings or a failed corporate strategy. The mere desire khổng lồ impress an interviewee with knowledge has, in the context of an interview, the opposite effect: it implicitly takes power from the interviewer and gives it to the interviewee. An incisive question can itself imply the knowledge that the interviewer brings to the table.

I remember legendary Fortune writer và editor Carol Loomis telling me: if you"ve done your homework, it"ll be obvious, you don"t need lớn spell it out.

Ask both the questions people are eager lớn answer, and those they"re absolutely not

I love sầu lớn hear people talk about the stuff they"re most excited about – their eyes light up, they gesticulate & lean in. It may not be the most critical for a story or background reporting, but it"s always worth taking the time, because the answers may benefit from that passion. When I pause from asking Disney CEO Bob Iger about quarterly results to lớn throw in some questions about Star Wars, his whole persona changes – you can tell he"s genuinely excited to lớn share hints about the upcoming films.

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And on the other kết thúc of the spectrum, don’t be dissuaded from asking about stuff people don’t want lớn discuss. Even if you know they won"t answer it, it"s worth trying. Sometimes I preface a question with "You know I have sầu lớn ask." If I don"t get an answer, I’ll just keep trying by asking smaller pieces of a question. When interviewing Sheryl Sandberg about Facebook"s expansion plans, when she sidesteps a question about acquisition targets, I might ask about areas where Facebook is focused on growth, lớn circle back lớn the crux of my original question.