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Top 10 Tips for Conducting an Exceptional Interview

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Top 10 Tips for Conducting an Exceptional Interview

By Pat Flynn on

How to Conduct an InterviewOne of the best ways to create content online is to interview someone—a person who compliments you and your brand or someone who fills the holes in it.

Interviews are extremely beneficial because:

  1. You can generate unique and refreshing content for your audience. You don’t need to be the expert to deliver expert advice.
  2. It can raise your level of authority simply because of the public association that you have with the interviewee.
  3. You build a relationship with the person you are interviewing which could possibly lead to other growth opportunities for you and your brand down the road.

Conducting interviews (especially audio or video interviews), however, is not easy.

At least good ones that are worth people’s time.

Although most of the content is generated by the person you are interviewing, most of the responsibility to fashion an interview worth consuming still lies in your hands—and it’s not just about asking the right questions either.

It’s about genuine interest, flow, vibe, sincerity, concern, digging deeper, defining the unclear, attracting stories, avoiding awkwardness and being conscious about all of that at the same time.

After conducting 20 interviews of my own and being interviewed in more than 30 (and listening to several more!), I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to conduct a worth-listening-to interview, one that is captivating and full of content that your audience wants to hear.

Below are my top 10 tips for conducting an exceptional interview:

10. Remember Who You’re Serving

Two words: Your Audience.

Although the interview may help you and your brand while at the same time help the person you are interviewing (by giving them exposure to your audience) your number one priority should be to enlighten your audience—to get answers that are meaningful from the person you’re interviewing that can better serve those who will eventually consume that content.

Don’t forget.

9. Pre-Interview Homework

There are few things that you should do before the interview actually happens:

  1. Understand a little bit about who you’re interviewing first. Sure, you’re conducting an interview to learn more about a person and what they do, but as the interviewer you should know a little bit more than your audience so that you can properly introduce the person and ask the right questions. If you can find an existing interview with the person on another website, that will be helpful too so you can gauge their style and tone, and create questions for that person accordingly.
  2. Confirm the details of the interview with the person you’re interviewing. This is especially important if you’re interviewing someone in a different timezone. Some things to confirm are:
    • Date and time.
    • Method of communication. (Skype, phone call, smoke signals).
    • Approximate length of interview.
  3. Test your recording equipment!
  4. Prepare a list of questions. See the next tip…

8. Prepare a List of Flexible, Open-Ended Questions and Possible Followup Questions

You should prepare a list of questions that will act as sort of a template for the interview—a guide for the path that you want to take from start to finish.

Not a shopping list that you should stick to 100%.

For each question you should come up with 2 or 3 possible followup questions that might be suitable to ask, depending on the answer.

You probably won’t get to them all, but because they are there it’s a good reminder just in case the perfect opportunity comes up to dig deeper into a topic of interest.

As far as the questions themselves, here are a few basic rules:

  1. Don’t ever ask YES or NO questions.
  2. Don’t ask more than one question at a time.
  3. Keep them relevant but be creative.
  4. Phrase the questions in a way that will allow the person being interviewed to expand.
  5. Offer to show the questions to the person you’re interviewing to make sure they’re comfortable with them, which goes along with…

7. Provide a Welcoming Environment

In order to get the best answers from the people you interview, you’ve got to create a welcoming environment for them.

A comfortable person, one who feels as if they are just having a conversation with a friend, will be more likely to give beefier information in a more enthusiastic and friendly tone, which benefits everyone.

Here are some ways to create a comfortable environment for the person you’re interviewing:

  • Make sure they know all of the details about the interview beforehand.
  • Ask them if they’d like to see the questions first.
  • Thank them for the interview before you even start and welcome them to your audience.
  • Have them listen to a kind pre-written or rehearsed introduction before getting to the questions.
  • Be enthusiastic and actually want to conduct the interview!

6. Allow the Person You’re Interviewing to Talk

One of the worse things you can do as an interviewer is take over the interview yourself. You’ve got to give the person you’re interviewing a chance to communicate as much as possible without interruption. The more they talk—the better.

It’s important to engage in conversation—yes—but there’s a line you can cross where it starts to become rude and/or just not valuable to your audience.

5. Listen!

This may sound obvious, but you’ve got to listen!

Be engaged in the interview—not just a person who reads the questions aloud.

This is much tougher than it sounds. As an interviewer myself, it’s extremely easy to “drift off” while the other person is talking. It’s not that you become bored and uninterested (I hope), but you might “tune out” while you wait for him or her to finish so you can move on to your next question.

Not good, especially because important followup questions are usually lost in the process.

Listen and be engaged.

4. Actually Want to Understand

Along the same lines, you must want to understand—and this can be done on different levels.

On the surface, it’s just about understanding the situation or what’s happening. What did this person do and why is it important to share?

On a deeper level, however, it becomes much more interesting, both for you as the interviewer and those who will eventually listen to it. On the deeper level, it becomes why does this person do what they do, and how.

Pro interviewers like Andrew Warner from Mixergy and David from The Rise to the Top do a fantastic job of actually wanting to learn everything there is to learn about a person or a process—not just the what but also the how and why, and I genuinely feel like it’s because they want to fully understand everything, which is why their shows are so popular.

3. Strive for a High-Quality Production

Bad quality audio or video can ruin a fantastic interview. Some people won’t even listen if the quality isn’t there.

Do whatever possible (within your budget, of course) to conduct a high-quality interview.

I personally use a Heil PR-40 Microphone and conduct most of my interviews on Skype, even if the other person is on a telephone line (I pay $2.99 a month to be able to dial a landline).

I record using Call Recorder for Skype (mac only), although if you’re on a PC I hear that Pamela for Skype is the software of choice.

Also, check out The Levelator, which is a free tool that makes sure both sides of the conversation are at the same level of volume.

2. Never…

  • Ask a Yes or No question.
  • Ask more than one question at a time.
  • Say “…and my next question is…”
  • Allow for an awkward pause or dull moment.
  • Be disrespectful to your audience and the person you’re interviewing.
  • Keep your mouth on your microphone (or breath into the mic) while the other person is talking.
  • Forget who you’re serving.

1. Have Fun!

I know it’s cliche to end a top 10 list with “have fun”—but in this case it will truly help your interview.

Having fun with it will actually make you and the person you’re interviewing much more comfortable, which will lead to better content for your audience.

If you make it seem like a task or a chore, then it will reflect in the interview—and that’s not what we want.

Have fun, enjoy the experience, develop new relationships and generate some amazing content!

Ask the Readers: What Makes an Interview Exceptional to You?

Now it’s your turn.

As a consumer of content please share your thoughts in the comment section about the following question:

What makes an interview exceptional and makes an interview terrible?

Here’s what some people already have to say about it on the SPI Facebook Page:

Jennylou Raya says:

Exceptional is when they show genuine interest in the person, asks questions no one asks but others would be dying to know. Good is consistency from one interview to another without sounding like a broken record when you have a chance to listen to the interview archives all in one day. Terrible is when the interviewer is unprepared and has no clue who they are talking to or knows less than the audience.

Jason Bellomy says:

The main thing for me is that the person conducting the interview does not dominate the conversation. The goal should be to let the interviewee do most of the talking while the interviewer pushes the conversation in a direction where he feels his listening audience would benefit.

Brandon Figueroa says:

Exceptional: the interview is incredibly informative. Meaning, the they ask lots of ‘meaty’ questions (and non of that basic boring stuff) with lots of answers and perspectives that most people haven’t thought of or seen before.

Terrible: Poor audio quality, no one cracks a joke, monotone, uptight, uninformative, repetitive stuff that people already know.

Awesome Interview (Bonus): it’s ‘shareable’. Extremely entertaining AND informative at the same time…

Now—how about you?

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