Mike Tyson and the Power of Holding Your Tongue
The 2008 documentary Tyson by James Toback is a compelling and revealing work. From a technical perspective, it’s a fun watch because Toback experiments with visual fragmenting and layered storytelling styles. In terms of subject matter, one would be hard-pressed to find a juicier, more tabloid-soaked figure to focus on, especially for those of us who came of age in the 80s. I walked away from the film with a much more nuanced and complex, though still ambivalent, view of Mike Tyson as a powerhouse boxer, as a convergent cultural figure, and, finally, as a very complicated human being.
But there was one moment that stood out, and it hammered home the incredible power of a simple interviewing technique: silence. At one point about mid-way through the film, Tyson was yammering in a very straightforward way about the fact that his desire to box and dominate stemmed from his being bullied as a young boy (predictable!). Toback must have sensed something simmering just below the surface, because when Tyson finished this train of thought Toback just let it sit. And sit. And sit. As the audience sits. And sits. Until Tyson looks back up with a completely different expression, almost with a different personality, and bares the real, brutal truth. It’s a moment when time kind of stops; I gasped out loud. It’s this kind of thrilling moment that we experience in our best interviews, when the person (“consumer!”) goes beyond just citing facts or recounting stories, to communicating to us, and our clients, something surprising, something of real value and meaning.
If you liked this interview tip, you’ll love this: Steve will be talking about his interviewing secrets at the UIE virtual seminar on the 28th of this month!