Guide to Conducting Interviews: Part 1

Marketing magic doesn’t always happen entirely behind the closed doors of an ivory tower. With good research and information being vital to the development of good content, sometimes we must leave our base of operations to interview subject matter experts as part of our creation process.

An interview is little more than a conversation, but many people find it quite difficult to conduct an effective one. Perhaps you’ve experienced dissatisfaction at an interview you’ve conducted in the past. Were the questions good enough? Did you get all the information you needed? Perhaps the subject could have elaborated more on a specific topic if only you had addressed it more directly. These kinds of concerns are valid, but can be overcome by smoothing out your interviewing approach to maximize productivity, knowledge gained, and even take the conversation to places you would never have expected.

In the first part of this series, we’ll be covering 5 tips to get you started when performing an interview.

 

Know what your goals are.

The worst thing you can do when interviewing someone for content is go into the situation with no idea of what you want to walk away with. Do you need general industry information? Anecdotes? A personal account of a well-known event? The information you need to get will frame the structure of the entire conversation. Whether deciding to pursue a particular point or relax and let the subject speak, it is always important that the interviewer be able to guide the conversation to the points that must be hit, and for that, a destination has to be established from the start.

Build rapport.

Conducting interviews can be as much of an art as it is a science, the former largely concerning the human aspect. No two interviewees will be alike, and so it will be up to you to be able to discern how best to approach them. Taking an interest goes a long way in building rapport, as it is always easier to speak with someone who is actively engaged in the conversation. In your pre-interview research, even if you don’t know much about the topic at hand, try to find one or two things that genuinely interest you to start the conversation with. If your subject truly is an expert, they would most likely be more than happy to educate you (or at least correct you), which will quickly establish a good conversational dynamic between you and make the conversation flow more easily.

Set the flow.

Speaking of flow, it is one of the more elusive skills to master, but could perhaps be the most influential. Think of any good podcast you’ve heard or an interview you’ve seen. If they were any good, the conversation should have felt easy and unforced. This naturalness of conversation is the product of striking the delicate balance between candor and accomplishing your goal. You want your subject to feel comfortable and relaxed while answering you, so let them speak. Don’t pressure them to hard toward any specific direction, and be unafraid of touching on ancillary topics as well, as they might lead you to unexpected bits of knowledge or anecdotes that could prove even more useful than what you initially sought to draw out from them.

Embrace tangents.

While you never want to lose control of the discussion, never be afraid to let it go off course a little. Personally speaking, it is there that I believe the best information in an interview lies. When a subject is comfortable enough to speak without your guidance, they have reached the point that they will say what they want to say, and you will get their unfiltered thoughts. Remember, you only came to them because you wanted their input. Otherwise, you most likely could have gotten your information through independent research. Allowing them to say what they want to say or tell a story that they want to tell is killing two birds with one stone—getting you the information you need while gaining some of their unique qualities as well, be it humor, emotion, or perspective. These qualities can go on to color the tone of the content you will ultimately create later on in this process.

Silence is your ally.

Believe it or not, silence is not the worst thing you can hear during your interview. If you’ve interviewed people before, odds are you’ve had one or two subjects that were less than forthcoming. Many interviewers make the mistake of believing that it is always their responsibility to fill that silence, perhaps by skipping to another question. But this guarantees that you are voluntarily giving up your chance to get the information you need, so what is one to do?

Wait.

You’ll find that most people will have an instinct to fill the air, or believe that their answer was insufficient, and so continue to expound upon their answer, potentially giving you a more comprehensive answer than you would have gotten otherwise. Of course, one should use this sparingly, as too much silence can definitely kill the flow of the conversation, but sometimes this is a helpful little trick to keep the ball rolling even with the most obstinate of interviewees.

 

Much more goes into improving your interviewing skills than what is listed here, but these tips will give you a push in the right direction to start refining your skills and conducting better interviews. And once armed with some pithy knowledge, you’ll be ready to generate some impactful content on your channels.

Look out for the next part of this series, where we’ll cover the types of equipment you’ll need for your interviewing kit.