How To Be A Better Interviewer

 

You have a blossoming blog, growing newsletter list, or fresh podcast. Your business is growing with more work and dreamier clients. Congrats! Now it's time to start honing your interviewing skills. No matter what you do for a living, asking critical questions and uncovering honest answers will help you build a better business. Here's how to conduct a successful interview
 
Like getting their picture taken or being filmed, most people hate the idea of being interviewed. They’re racked with fears. "How will I sound? What if I say something wrong? Can you make me sound better? What if no one finds me interesting?"
 
The vulnerability of the spotlight is enough to turn people cold at best, downright defensive at worst.
 
The truth is that everyone has a story to tell. But people often downplay their contributions and influence over an organization, a company, or a project. My job is to make sources and clients feel comfortable sharing. Secondly, I need sources to take ownership of their stories. Without these two things, I can’t get what I need to write brand copy.
 
Here are some tips I use for getting sources to open up, share their stories, and own their worth in an interview.

1. quid pro quo

People consistently and instinctively operate on a quid pro quo basis. Why on earth would I do something for someone who can do nothing for me?Why would I share something with someone I don’t know? Before I can expect a source to open up to me, it’s important I pony up a little information myself. 
 
For example, I was interviewing a group of CEOs, asking them to share the best advice they ever received. Before we even began they would each frantically check their appearance in a mirror, mumble on about “having” to do this brand video, and begged me to edit them to perfection in post-production. I let them air out their fears and then said, “We’re talking today about the best advice you’ve ever received. It can be personal or professional. Do you want to hear mine?”
 
They each said yes. When I finished my story, each interviewee launched into their own stories with enthusiasm and confidence.

Some other ways to encourage your source to open up:

  • Make small talk. Even if this isn't your favorite way to converse, it is essential to connecting with a stranger. Compliment them on their gorgeous office or to-die-for bag, recount a previous meeting and the (positive) impression the source left you with, or heck, talk about the weather! Conveying warmth and positivity to your source is crucial to gaining their trust and, ultimately, conducting a successful, connected interview. 
  • Ask about their kids. People love talking about their kids or grandkids, and just bringing this up can turn the coldest hard ass into a cuddly teddy. My favorite thing to do is ask about someone's kid and watch them light up or completely melt. It puts people in a good mood and I get the added benefit of seeing how their body language changes when they are talking about what they love. Asking about pets works, too. 
  • Reassure them. Do you know the most calming phrase in the English language is? "Take your time." People are usually so frantic with nerves, and their brains are firing off a million thoughts, or, even more debilitating, no thoughts at all. This worry compounds the stress of the interview. If your source is still fidgeting, seems distracted, or is stressed, tell them to take their time. 

2. go off topic

 Once people starting talking, they usually won’t stop. This is a good thing. Often, interviewers want to be the authority by reigning in the conversation and “staying on topic” or asking very pointed questions. Sources will tell you what you need to know, just let them talk. It may be a little off-topic, but it’s all context – the personal provides a framework for the professional. The more you know about them, the better. Often, introductory paragraphs and conclusions (the neatly wrapped bow at the end of your story) come from blending a source’s personal and professional information – the stuff they’ve offered up while “off topic.”

Here's how to get them back on track, and still glean useful tips from a long, off-topic tangent:

  • Ask "How is that interest/experience similar to design/art/coaching?"
  • Say "You seem to know a lot about [topic of interest]. What has X taught you about Y?"
  • Agree and shift. If your source is yammering on about yoga and you're there to talk about strength training, try touching on their point and moving past it in the same sentence: "I love some yoga, too, but I often don't feel strong enough to do the moves. How can people incorporate strength training into their daily lives?"

3. keep them involved

Inviting the sources into your process – like walking them through the interview topics beforehand, looping them into the drafting and editing process, and discussing art direction for the final product – will allow them to take ownership of the outcome. Plus, it’s the professional thing to do. Your source should never be in the dark about the status of a story, or surprised by its publication.

Tactics for helping sources take ownership:

  • Send 3-5 big-picture questions for them to consider before the interview. 
  • Allow them to read or listen to the final product after editing but before publication. Use this time to address any worries they may have, especially if they're feeling vulnerable. Remind them that they have a story people want to hear. 
  • Send them the live link on the day of publication, along with a corresponding graphic for social media. Encourage them to share! 

The joy of interviewing is being able to watch a source go from scared to satisfied.