The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

#330: Deconstructing The Art & Science Of Interviewing With Jay Acunzo

Full show notes can be found at

This is a special bonus episode focusing on deconstructing the art and science of interviewing.  You will hear learning happening in real time.  Jay Acunzo and I go a meta-level to better understand how to better improve our conversation ability, how to be better in an interview.  “Interviewing is a skill that enhances your life in a pleasant and unexpected way.”  This is focused on how you can ask better questions, be more interesting and more interested, and become a better conversationalist.


  • The meta level of deconstructing the process of making the work is rare…
  • “I experience the most flow when it’s quiet, nitty-gritty work.  Those minute are profoundly rewarding for me.”
  • What makes a great interview?
  • An open loop — Start telling the story, but wait to close the loop until later to build intrigue…
  • The difference between a narrative style show and an interview getting to know someone:
    • A story is three parts – The intent of the story: The “Joseph Campbell Heroes Journey” 1) Status Quo 2) Conflict 3) Resolution
    • Bucket of questions:
      • “Tell me about X…”
      • “How did it make you feel?”
      • The analysis and the reflection
  • Change your mindset: “You’re not an interviewer, you’re a dance partner.”
    • “The only thing that matters is that you lead.  Everything else is little subtle moves to get people to go to where you want to go.”
  • “It’s not a constant march forward. Instead, think of it like a dance. There are some steps back, steps forward, steps to the side — all packaged together in one coherent experience, with lots of zig-zagging and subtle steps inside those boundaries.”
  • Open ended questions: “Tell me about X” gets you story details, while “how did it feel when” gets you key moments of reflection and analysis. Both are crucial.
  • Clip #1 — JJ Redick 
    • He says “great question” — what would make someone interviewed as often as a pro athlete say that?
    • How to prep for an interview for someone who is interviewed all the time?
      • Built a basic rapport leading up to the interview — Discussed sports, restaurants, podcasting, interviewing.  Developed a “friend” level of communication
        • Create an environment where the guest wants it to be a great show
    • Good follow up questions: Ask for an example… Asking, “How did that make you feel?” “What’s your process?” –> Then be a deep, thoughtful listener to ask a follow up.
    • Stay on the same level with your dance partner – Don’t be a guest “worshiper”
    • When following up, there are a few things you can do: 1) Distill 2) Disagree 3) Ask the next question…
    • During an interview, the best question you can ask: “How did that make you feel?” It enables them to get in an emotional lane (away from canned responses)
    • Testing the levels on the microphone — Don’t waste that opportunity.  Engineer the guest, the human — You need them to feel like we’re hanging out and excited about the interview.  Make it fun.  What to ask instead: “I’m going to check your levels, do you have any pets at home?” “What would be your last meal on earth?” — It helps people break out of their corporate drone mode.  The question is about the person, on a human plane.
    • Create a safe space for them to share their truth. “I’m not a journalist, I’m a conversationalist.”
  • Clip #2 — Adam Savage
    • How did he get on the show? Working with a PR firm to book a guest — A great PR person like Brent Underwood only recommends guests that are a good fit for the show.
    • Ask questions that you are genuinely curious about — I am curious about someone’s process and it’s always led me to a useful follow up…
    • The issue is sometimes a “process” oriented question is the guest can answer with a generality… How to wiggle out of that?
      • Look at the acknowledgement section of their book to get ideas for important people/events in their life to ask about…
    • Mental Heuristics: Tell me about, 30,000 feet, go to a specific example… The third question is “Putting them in a box:” — “
  • From Jay: Heuristics to tell great AUDIO stories:
    • Tell me about…
    • How did you feel when (or, how did that feel?)
    • Can you give me an example?
    • (Superlatives) Best, worst, funniest, scariest, hardest, least certain, favorite, etc…
    • (Dig for emotional moments)
  • Clip #3 — Brian Koppelman
    • How to handle nerves — Work to get settled in.  Get through the initial conversation point…
    • Give people a genuine compliment for why you like their work — Tell people why their work helps you
  • Hidden Gems:
    • Interplay between your intent for the work and your framework for it:
      • “My goal is to engineer an outcome, but I have an intent I don’t want to become The Bachelor in Paradise.”
        • Have self and situational awareness.  We carry with us good intent to serve the audience.  Don’t let the framework or engineering supersede the original intent.
    • The two types of interviews: 1) The person, their story… 2) Their content
      • The best conversations are able to weave both together and smoothly bounce back and forth
      • Learn about the person AND learn about the topic that he has mastered — Master that dance between both — I need to give you something that is going to make you better.
  • Use the “Get To Know You Document
  • Why joining The Learning Leader Circle is a good idea

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