5 Tips for Conducting an Effective Interview (Even When Interviewing’s Not Your Thing)

conducting an effective interview

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Now that content marketing has become the norm, some “seasoned” marketers might feel like Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the ship’s doctor on the original “Star Trek” series.

When tasked with anything outside his comfort zone, he’d protest “Jim, I’m a doctor, not a mechanic” (or a botanist or a doorstop). You get the idea. (For more fun McCoyisms, check out this site.)

Similarly, many marketers who need to create helpful, relevant, interesting content might want to incorporate interviews to serve as source material for articles or to use in videos or podcasts.

“But I’m a marketer, not an interviewer,” you might protest. But there’s really no need to worry: you can become a master interviewer.

Here are five simple tips that can help you quiet your inner McCoy and tackle your new role with confidence.

Study up

It’s shocking how few amateur interviewers take the time to prepare. If you don’t believe me, check out any number of interview podcasts or YouTube videos out there for evidence. The resulting audio or video content is uncomfortable to watch (because the subject is usually very uncomfortable and the host is nervous) and any worthwhile tidbits are purely accidental.

Research before you interview someone. Read up on the topic you’ll be discussing. Read any blog posts or articles your guest has written relating to the subject. Listen to any other interviews he or she has given. Your audience might not have heard their answers before, but you’ll want to make sure you don’t cover exactly the same ground, just in case.

View your guest’s personal blog or corporate website. Look at his or her LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed. Get a sense of the guest’s personality. What causes does she care about? What hobbies does he enjoy? Having some knowledge of your subject beyond the professional will add richness and depth to your interview.

Don’t script (but do prepare)

Your guest is doing you a favor by appearing on your show or talking with you for your article and sharing his or her expertise with your audience. Don’t expect the guest to carry the interview: lay some groundwork to make it easy for your guest to shine.

While you’re researching, you might be tempted to script some questions. Some guests might even ask you for questions in advance of the interview. Resist the urge to script. Encourage guests to trust the process and let a natural conversation unfold.

Scripted questions yield scripted answers, and everyone ends up sounding scripted. Not exactly compelling audio!

By the same token, if you’re emailing questions to someone so that you can write up a blog post or article, realize that the answers they send will be carefully worded, and are likely to reveal little personality compared with an audio interview. Not to say that this approach should always be avoided, but it’s not my favorite.

Build a rapport

Talking with industry stars or company executives can be intimidating, so you might be tempted to “get down to business” right away. But don’t. Take a minute or two (no longer) to establish some rapport with your subject.

Ask some questions that aren’t about work. Chat about what they did this weekend. Ask about their family vacation. Crack a joke. Whatever breaks the ice so that the ensuing conversation sounds like a chat between friends rather than a scripted, pre-planned professional interview. Time spent on some preliminary chat isn’t wasted—it’s an investment in creating quality content.

Listen

This is really just good manners, but listen to your interview subject. Really listen: don’t just wait to talk. Not only will this help to ensure your guest feels comfortable, it will enable you to take the conversation in new directions based on the answers he or she gives. Which brings me to my next piece of advice…

Follow where your guest leads (unless they’re going nowhere)

If you run an audio or video show that features top notch guests, you’ll find them to be polished, practiced, and capable of taking the interview in hand to ensure quality content even if an interviewer is inexperienced.

Imagine what these kinds of guests can do in the hands of a more experienced interviewer! Go beyond their usual “talking points” and polished presentations. Push them off-script by asking questions about more advanced aspects of their topic or applications most practitioners haven’t thought of. The resulting content, written, audio, or video, will be incredibly helpful and valuable to your audience.

So listen to your practiced guests, and follow their interesting answers into more advanced territory.

By contrast, if the person you’re speaking to is not used to being interviewed, he or she might need some help to come out of the experience looking good. Novice interviewees might sound nervous or might talk in circles, taking a long time to make their point. Interrupting them will only make things worse, so wait until they come up for air, then gently nudge them in a better direction. “It sounds as though your clients have been reluctant to try Snapchat. What ideas do you have for Snapchat marketing that might convince them to make the leap?”

With experienced guests, you can ask open-ended questions and follow the answers where they lead, knowing that any destination will be fun, valuable, and worthwhile.

With novice interviewees, targeted questions work better, so be specific.

Of course there are infinite possibilities in each interview for creating great (or not so great) content, but if you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating the kind of content your audience will thank you for.

kerry gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Senior Program Manager, Enterprise Learning, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Twitter. Illustration courtesy Flickr and Jack M

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