World-class storyteller, Anderson Cooper, visited Portland last month to speak at the annual Simon Benson dinner, honoring philanthropists and distinguished Portland State University alumni.

I was fortunate to sit front row at the pre-dinner, ‘meet the press’ event where he took questions about how to be a better journalist and human. After meeting him, I think Cooper would make a great life coach; but he’s busy telling stories for CNN. So, until I can convince him to move to Portland, I’ll pass along what I learned:

1. It takes a big heart to share tough stories

If it’s your job to tell stories—especially about vulnerable people—you need to practice juggling the roles of active but empathic listener. Objectively plan the logistics of a story, like character and structure, but let yourself emotionally connect. Try to walk in the other person’s shoes.

Covering emotional topics feels really uncomfortable sometimes—that’s how you know you have enough heart to do the job well. Those who don’t feel some amount of pain when questioning people at their worst times have no business as journalists.

2. Get comfortable with you to get comfortable with different people

Cooper says that being gay and coming out has made him a better reporter—more aware of diversity all around him, and open to other people’s experiences. Though he values his privacy, Cooper is open, at least partly, because he’s comfortable with himself.

You live in a diverse culture. It’s critical to see life from other vantage points in order to tell stories. The best way to get comfortable with others is to first get cozy with your own self.

3. You don’t want to go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

It might sound exciting, but according to Anderson Cooper, this event is a bummer. Cooper doesn’t go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and here’s why:

  • The lines are long.
  • There is a very awkward mix of celebrities.
  • And really, should the press be dancing with elected officials?

What are your favorite insider tips on storytelling?