I took two mini-risks yesterday. The first one involved attending an online writing chat. Attending the chat was actually an accident, I thought I was going to be watching a webinar, but instead I ended-up chatting – in writing, about writing. The only visuals were the guest and moderator’s Gravatars. The set-up felt odd at first, and I thought it might be boring, since I’m a bit of a bells and whistles kind-of gal.
The featured guest was Roy Peter Clark, a PhD in medieval literature and V.P. and Senior Scholar at the world-renowned Poynter Institute, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Clark has authored or edited 14 books. (Believe it or not, that was the exciting part to me – nerd alert!)
The Poynter Institute is:
“a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. It promotes excellence and integrity in the practice of craft and in the practical leadership of successful businesses. It stands for a journalism that informs citizens and enlightens public discourse. It carries forward Nelson Poynter’s belief in the value of independent journalism.”
Their web site, www.poynter.org hosted the chat, which focused on the power of asking open-ended questions. Clark was discussing them and we were supposed to asking them, which led to some tense moments for me and to my second risk of the day. I spent 30 minutes trying to work up the courage to ask a question, because as you know, taking risks scares me – big time. When I finally did ask, the discussion went like this, and yes, I am quoting:
Thursday February 17, 2011 3:33
[Comment From Patrice:] I am beginning to do a series of interviews for my blog. What are your favorite questions for soft news interviews?
Roy Peter Clark: Patrice, I don’t necessarily change my questions for soft news to hard news. But I do like the pattern in which you ask easier questions early and then tough ones later one. The rationale is that you want to gain confidence and not make source feel defensive — or make her leave the interview — until you have what you want.
As other folks asked questions and received answers, my courage began to grow. I decided to ask another question.
[Comment From Patrice:] When and how did you get hooked on the art of inquiry?
Roy Peter Clark: This may sound strange, Patrice, but I think it came from reading fiction as a young person. When I got “hooked” on a story, I wanted to find out what happened next. Or I wanted the answer to a key question: “Where was the treasure chest buried?” I also watched Perry Mason and still love courtroom dramas. Although they are not realistic, they have a narrative arc that mimics inquiry.
Roy Peter Clark: And thanks Patrice, for asking an open-ended question. One that no one asked me before. So I think you got a decent answer from me, an authentic original answer, rather than my canned quote.
How cool is that, and oh, so not boring, which later led to another question . . .
Ellyn Angelotti (Moderator and Interactivity Editor at Poynter Online):
This is from Patrice: I’m a life coach, and did not realize there was such a crossover between a good interview and a good coaching session – the swing thoughts, re-asking the same questions, asking easier questions first and really listening to the answers. Thanks for helping me gain those insights. Question: If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
Roy Peter Clark: Another good question, Patrice. At the age of 62, I’m wondering if I have one more career choice left. I think I’d make a pretty good psychologist. And I wonder if I still have time for law school. What interests me about those two choices is the differences in the style of questioning. In an shrink’s office versus a courtroom. The first much more open-ended. The second more pointed. And I am a good piano player.
Be still my heart! Fun, drama, excitement, information sharing, learning. Proof positive that I am a nerd, but nerdy little me would have missed all the fun, if I hadn’t taken the risk of asking a question or two.
And, now a few open-ended questions for you. Take a risk and share your answers with us:
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing with your life now, what would you be doing?
Even if you don’t share your answer with us, pay attention to it. Mine was swimming, no clue why, but I will work in a beach visit.
What did you want to be when you grew-up?
An actress or a lawyer, I saw them as equally dramatic and exciting.
If you were a tree . . . just kidding, just kidding, that’s Barbara Walter’s question!!!
But, wait, what if you were an apple, what kind of apple would you be? (Now that’s a much better question, one we can really sink our teeth into. Oooh, that was bad, but it won’t stop me from answering.)
I’d be a Winesap – spicy, tangy, crisp and delicious, also I love wine and can be very sappy.
Okay, now I will stop.