We launched Artifact with the idea that journalists could get excellent interviews out of our guests, helping them to record the most important stories in their lives. That’s still the case, but our understanding of what makes a great Artifact interviewer has evolved along with the company.
These days, most of our interviewers are still journalists. What they all have in common are a few specific qualities:
- They’re good listeners
- They’re empathetic and non-judgmental
- They’re curious about other people — even those they've never met
- They have a feel for storytelling, and how to guide their guests through an interview in a way that makes sense (the pre-interview questionnaire helps too)
Once we moved past the idea that interviewers had to be journalists, the pool expanded in fascinating ways. A professional comedian emceed an audio roast, ordered by friends to blunt the sting of a canceled bachelor party. We recruited an actor and performer on the beloved kids’ podcast Story Pirates for her high-energy style and ability to get inside the heads of our youngest guests. Basically, journalists have lots of interview experience, but they’re far from the only professionals who can relate to their guests, craft a great question, and coax out unexpected moments.
As we grow, we plan to put more emphasis on deftly matching interviewers to guests. There are times when a shared experience, language, or cultural background can help foster an instant rapport.
For example, last week I interviewed the mother of a seven-month-old girl. She was hoping to capture all the little things she treasures about her baby during a time when things are changing day-to-day. Before we started the interview, she asked if I have kids.
When I told her I had a 14-month-old daughter, she said, “Perfect — so you know exactly what I'm talking about."
And she was right. I think I was able to ask better questions because I had been in her shoes just a few months earlier.
Of course, shared experience is not a prerequisite for connection. Artifact interviewer Stephen Wood, an American journalist in his mid-20s, recently interviewed a 90-something Shanghai native and grandmother. By the end of their fourth conversation, they were riffing like old buddies.
We’ve heard some folks worry that their loved ones won’t feel comfortable speaking with a stranger. So far, that hasn’t been a problem. No matter who we pair you with, you can be sure that the person will be kind and curious. Ironically, chatting with someone you don’t know can actually be liberating. It’s not uncommon for people to share things during their interviews that they've kept back from siblings, kids, or friends. That's the ultimate sign of a comfortable interviewee — and the recipe for an excellent Artifact.