All I Did Was Ask

All I Did Was Ask

Terry Gross, the interviewer of NPR’s daily talk show Fresh Air, published a book with this title in 2004. It’s a cute quip for a veteran interviewer but also slightly misleading: the key to Gross’s success is obviously in WHAT she’s asked. Her questions, driven by insatiable curiosity, elicit often remarkable responses from people from all walks of life (who may not want to divulge all or even much). It’s a formula that has worked for decades; Terry Gross’s interviews are a unique record of American culture since 1985. She regularly pulls in 5 million listeners. 

My job is to listen. Listening to a room, listening to what’s said but also for what’s not said. Listening to a presenter, listening for content. Listening for emotional charge. Listening for that special kind of silence that tells me the whole room just got really surprised and is thinking hard and in new ways. Listening and then translating that onto paper or iPad, synthesizing on the fly, making connections. 

This listening? It’s also an ask.

Sometimes as a graphic facilitator I do ask directly, which happens more when I’m working with individuals. Yet there are lots of ways to ask questions. With groups, I often turn around when capturing what someone said to make eye contact and with gestures quickly establish that yes, I did understand, or “please could you repeat or rephrase that,” or checking to see how much emphasis I should be placing on this by reactions around the person — if lots of heads are nodding, I just got an answer.

Natural curiosity is an essential quality in an interviewer. It’s also an essential quality in a graphic facilitator. I can’t help feeling that more of it would do a lot of good in the world.