Review of the Book: HOW TO TALK WITH PRACTICALLY ANYBODY ABOUT PRACTICALLY ANYTHING. By Barbara Walters

This book was written around 40 years ago although it is still applicable for anyone wanting advice on improving interpersonal relationships. Many of her tested techniques and tips can be applied today in one’s personal and professional life.

It’s interesting to see Barbara Walters on TV where she’s calm, confident, and composed. As you read the book, you become aware of many of the principles she’s applied professionally. It hardly comes as a surprise to see her hard work and “lessons learned” have paid dividends for Barbara Walters. In addition, Barbara is not afraid to share her triumphs and troubles to help others become better at connecting with people and engaging in the art of conversation.

IS BEING A GOOD LISTENER ENOUGH?
In the book, Barbara Walter emphatically states it’s not just about being a good listener when connecting or interviewing people. Even though conventional wisdom says you can carry on a good conversation by being a good listener, the art of conversation is much more than that. Get beyond the superficial talk and connect with each other. Both parties need to have genuine interest in each other, the opportunity, and respect to express themselves.

GIVING COMPLIMENTS
When giving compliments, they should not be general but rather, should be specific, warm, and personal. Make sure your compliments are genuine and sincere too.

A FEW (5) ALMOST FOOLPROOF CONVERSATION STARTERS
1. If you were not doing the work you are now doing, what would you most like to be doing?

2. If you could live any time in history, when would you wish to have lived?

3. If you could be any person in history, whom would you like to have been?

4. 10 books you’d take with you if you were stranded on a deserted island.

5. If you were suddenly given a million dollars and told you could only spend it on yourself, what would be the first thing you would buy?

STOP
Do your homework; know as much as you can about the situation and person being interviewed.
LOOK
Total attention. Don’t let your eyes stray, no one else is important. Keep your eyes on the person you’re interviewing or talking to.
LISTEN
Really listen, trust instincts-open or shy? Can you get personal or stick to neutral subjects?

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ABOUT STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN
I really think the Stop, Look, and Listen approach could certainly be applied to many areas of  your personal and professional, especially during job transition. When you network with people or do informational interviewing, approach the event seriously. Do as much homework as possible with whom you’ll interview. Pay close attention to your subject. Keep your eyes on the subject to convey to them they are the most important person at that time. Even though you’re prepared for the conversation, be flexible as the interview proceeds. Having a script is important but you need to know you could go off script too. As you journey through this process, can you touch subjects that are more personal or not? If not at that time, maybe later in the conversation? If you’ve agreed to a certain amount of questions but the interview is going well, can you add a few more during the interview? If your rapport is strong, you’ll have a strong indication how they’ll respond.

INTERVIEWING OR CONNECTING WITH FAMOUS PEOPLE
According to the book, some famous people can be shy and withdrawn and may be reluctant to talk about themselves in the interview. Barbara found that she get famous people to talk about themselves by asking them about others. Often, if asked about others, they’d personalize the question and talk about themselves.

Another point she makes in the book when connecting with famous people is not to probe immediately into sensitive subjects right after the introduction. Talk about less personal matters until you’ve built up your rapport and trust. Until a celebrity or anyone for matter feels comfortable with you, it’s not likely that he will feel like disclosing anything more intimate than his shoe size.

Another option is to ask them about their clothes, hobbies, or charity. Ask them about their first job? Don’t discuss their work if that’s taboo or out of bounds. Get them talking about something we enjoy to get them to loosen up. Again, it’s important to do your homework — you’re well prepared and able to handle potential obstacles during the interview.

IF NERVOUS ABOUT MEETING VIPs
Barbara was intrigued by Mrs. Eugene McCarthy’s response when Mrs. McCarthy met VIPs while her husband sought the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Mrs. McCarthy said, “I am the way I am; I look the way I look; I am my age. “ That kept grounded as she went through this grueling process. According to the introduction in this book, Barbara Walters often used those words to calm herself down when she had to face a gathering or situation that was frightening, and this approach always worked.

DOES HER HOMEWORK
Find out where their interests lie. It could be their grandchildren, growing vegetables in the garden, what they like to do in their spare time. Once you establish that rapport, you may be able to get more personal in the interview and probe a little about different aspects of their life or emotional challenges they may have faced.

It’s mentioned in the book that preparing for an interview could be likened to an actor rehearsing their lines repeatedly. Even if you’ve repeated the material many times, it’s better to be over prepared so you can relax and focus on your deliver and be better equipped to handle any surprises you may encounter.

GREAT RESOURCE
For those whose profession requires some interviewing skills, this book is a great resource. It helps interviewers overcome yourself consciousness, biases, fears or preconceived notion; prepare for the interview and deliver an excellent performance. In addition, these lessons can be applied when networking, making friends, getting along with co-workers, and communicating effectively.

THINGS NOT TO DO (BARBARA LEARNED THE HARD WAY)
Earlier in her career, she asked a VIP a hypothetical question about whether they would have enjoyed being a politician. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well as this interviewee firmly stated that was a hypothetical question, which he normally does not answer. She realized it was probably a good idea not to repeat that mistake again.

Don’t just jump into interview and ask questions without first establishing a certain amount of rapport.

Don’t ask tycoons about their business. That’s the last thing they want to discuss.

Every so often, regardless of your preparation, approach and professionalism, interviews don’t go as well as planned. This could be due to a number of factors, including the interviewee being uncooperative, unresponsive, or just a bore. If this happens, just move on and vow never to try to interview that subject again.

Kevin Schwarm

I have over 25 years of professional experience in business, information technology (IT), and customer service. Industry experience in retail, medical insurance, higher education, non-profit, financial services, and property and casualty insurance. Customer focused professional interested in providing value (save time, money and aggravation) by evaluating and analyzing information, services and products with a unique perspective.

12 Responses

  1. Carol Alcantar says:

    I enjoyed reading this review and found it most helpful. Having some sales training and experience you learn early on the importance of developing rapport. Regardless, interviews always cause nerves and concern for the interviewee unless much preparation has been done. I've been on both sides of the table and I much prefer evaluating the responses than predicting the questions and planning good answers. Thanks for contributing this review! I'll be reading the book.