There is one scene from the movie ‘Ratatouille’ that is etched in my memory. The one where Anton, the hard-nosed critic, is at the restaurant to pronounce his judgement. He is expected to write it off as a failure. He is served Ratatouille, a vegetable stew with its roots in French peasantry. The first bite of the dish transports the critic to his childhood. It reminds him of his mother’s cooking in their rustic home. This nostalgic flashback moves Anton to declare that he had been served by no less than the finest chef in France.
Cal Fussman is one of the world’s finest interviewers. His job is to elicit unique insights from illustrious people who have already had thousands of interviews. Several times, Cal teases out things that even his interviewees do not know about themselves. In one interview, he gets Mikhail Gorbachev to open up about how his father’s struggles in World War II inspired him to become a beacon of world peace.
But how are Cal Fussman, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King so good at what they do? How do they elicit such answers?
One of the key factors is the questions they pose – ones that are aimed for their heart rather than the head. Cal started that interview with Gorbachev with “what is the best thing your father taught you?” Their questions operate similarly to the Ratatouille that Anton tasted. It causes their guests to pause, and in three seconds they go through a highlight reel of their life. At the end, they assimilate what they see into a wonderful, and often new insight.
The result? The interviewer and the audience learn something new and valuable. The guests themselves are delighted to have journeyed through their best moments. Subsequently, they let their guard down and open up with the best stories of their lives.
Asking questions is how we learn most naturally. No wonder toddlers overflow with them, driving parents crazy. However, only a few of us continue to hone in on this tendency and learn to ask the best questions – ones that serve as pathways into people’s hearts and their most memorable stories.
Inpsiration: Cal Fussman’s appearance on the James Altucher Show podcast