I’m fortunate that so many people want to interview me to hear my take. I receive many requests for interviews, and lately, so many that I’ve had to turn some down so that I have time to enough work so that people will have a reason to interview me in the future. Not all interviews are created equally, and I wanted to give you some ideas on how to spruce up yours, so that when you land a chance to interview someone you think your audience will appreciate, you’ll have something engaging to share.
First – Homework
What turns me off fast is when someone sends me a form-letter feeling interview (this is often done in email, but I’ve had the face-to-face version at events). If you’re just interviewing me to add to a stable of similar content, it’s not going to be that interesting for either of us. The first way to get a great interview is to have some actual homework done on the subject you’re intending to capture in the interview. Know what you can about them. Read a few blog posts. Read some old interviews. Jot some things down that you saw on their LinkedIn profile or from their Twitter stream. Homework ensures that the subject knows you’ve taken the time and effort to make the interview worth both your time.
Second – Intent
It’s amazing how people giving interviews don’t realize that they follow the same arcs as stories. Your interview should have some sense of a beginning, middle, and end, and try to service a great story. By the way, some of my favorite interviews to read in print come from Rolling Stone magazine and the cover interview of Esquire magazine. (I like these for their pop culture reference as well as for how well-written they are. You can name your fancy schmancy places, too.)
Third – Brevity
Ten questions isn’t an ideal interview length. The number 10 just comes into our head due to cultural conditioning. If you asked from three to seven really good questions, you’ll have a much better interview than pushing out ten questions because that’s what you want to see in print or on your video. OR if there are 10 questions, make them much smaller/simpler to answer. Maybe you write about real estate, and your questions are like: “urban or the burbs?” It still accomplishes the goal of brevity.
Fourth – Rapport
On video, it’s amazing how some folks giving an interview act like tripods to their video camera. With great rapport comes an opening up of the subject you’re interviewing. Have you ever watched a Barbara Walters interview? Say what you will about her, but she knows how to open people up. Same can be true in email interviews. You can say something to your subject that gets them into the right mindset to share their best with you.
Fifth – Posting and Promotion
When you do the interview, it’s your job to get the promotion. Quite often, people push on me to promote their interview with me. There are two problems with this for me (your mileage may vary): 1 – I don’t like talking about myself so I’m less likely to share your interview link, and 2 – it immediately makes me think you’ve interviewed me for traffic value alone and so you’ve left a bad taste in my mouth about how I perceive the value of the interview.
There are exceptions to this, always, but just know that it could happen with your interview subject, especially if they’re someone who gets interviewed a lot.
Troubleshooting – Nerves
In person, or over the phone, one of the things I notice a lot is that when someone’s nervous, they say “Um” more than they breathe. Relax. The person across from you is mostly human. I’ve been fortunate to sit across from some really really smart people and really famous people, and I use something my friend Steve Garfield taught me to be good with this: people are people.
It might sound overly simple, but if you remember that we’re all people with fears, hopes, insecurities, and more, then you’ll be far less likely to treat your subject like someone you’re not worthy to be around, and that will help with the ums.
Troubleshooting – Bad Responses
If you ask an interviewee a question that could likely get you a one word answer, you’ll get a one word answer. Yes and no questions are one word territory. Questions like, “What kind of car do you drive?” are very brief answer questions. Instead, you could ask, “Tell me about the experience of driving your new Camaro.” Then, you’ll get something a bit more. Hint: bad responses almost always come from bad questions.
Troubleshooting – Technical Glitches
I’ve had several situations where I’ve conducted an interview and had a technical glitch with the resulting media (audio, video, what have you). There’s really no way to get around it. Contact your subject, explain what happened, apologize, and ask whether another shot is possible. They’ll decide if it’s okay. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Depends on time, but I’m always grateful to hear that something went wrong, because if I was wondering when it’d come out, I now know why it didn’t.
Find New Subjects
I write for Entrepreneur magazine now as one of my fun side projects. When I go through their magazine, I don’t find article after article about the big name entrepreneurs. I find story after story talking about someone new that we don’t yet know very well, and we get into their heads to learn how they’re bringing a new approach to the world. You’d get more from an interview with Glenda Watson Hyatt and Mark Horvath and Marjorie Clayman than you’ll ever get from me and Scoble and Gary Vaynerchuk and the like.
And your community will get more, too.
Here’s your chance to interview me about the interview article. Or tell us your best tips. Or share with us an interview that you thought went really well (remember that posting URLs means they go into quarantine and I have to manually free them to the section).