George Stephanopoulos on the Art of Conversation
BY Burt Helm
Advice from the anchor of ABC's Good Morning America on getting anyone to open up.
When you’re having a one-on-one discussion, it’s often as crucial to get the other person to open up as it is to get your own point across. To that end, we asked George Stephanopoulos, anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America and host of This Week, how he draws compelling answers out of tough interview subjects.
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.
BURT HELM is a senior writer for Inc. magazine. In 2013, his Inc. feature “After the Squeeze” was awarded the Stephen Barr Award for Feature writing, and his stories “After the Squeeze,” and “Turntable.fm: Where Did the Love Go?” received awards from Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Prior to Inc. he worked as a reporter for Bloomberg News and a department editor for Businessweek. He is a graduate of Yale University with a double major in Physics and English. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. @burthelm