05/18/2009: "How To Conduct a Successful Interview"
I was scared out of my boots the first time I interviewed the governor of the state. I was a young journalist. I wanted the story. I wanted the interview. But journalism school had ill prepared me for this interview. Well, the interview went well. Oh, yes . . . I thought I had tape in the recorder and didn't. But all journalists do that at least once in their career and I was no exception. A gun without a bullet is just part of the dues one must pay.
Since then, I've interviewed many governors, senators, city and county officials, actors and others who consider themselves important beings far removed from the mere mortal. What I've learned may help you if part of your job description is the interview.
I listen to numerous interviews on podcasts. I watch interviews on the Internet. Most are just gawd-awful. Interviewing is a skill and few people have it. Let's talk about what to do and not to do in the interview. These do's and don't's are for you whether you interview for print, air or video.
1. Never be in awe of your interviewee.
2. Never be intimidated by anyone. They're just a human like you.
3. Don't try to be the star.
4. Don't run your mouth.
5. Know the questions you'll ask in advance.
6. Ask questions your audience would ask if they had the chance.
7. If it's a video, make sure the camera is on your interviewee's face as well as yours.
8. Make sure the sound is good. Use the right type of mic.
9. Always make your guest comfortable.
10. The interview should be a conversation, not an interrogation.
The first thing I do is tell my guest that I'll begin recording shortly but let's just chat for a bit. I get her chatting and forgetting about the interview. Then, quietly I begin recording without saying a word. She may not even know the interview has started. She's at ease. We just talk. Give and take.
"I read a lot of self-help books in my spare time," I tell her. "What do you like to read or do in your spare time?" And she starts talking about her interests. We begin to see the person she is in her private world. You should offer a bit of personal information about yourself and get her to open up, give her opinions.
Remember, people love to talk about themselves above anything else. But, they'll be guarded in an interview. They'll want to present their best selves. Your job is to let your audience see them as they really are.
Just talk to them as you would a friend. But don't be ga ga over them. Don't gush no matter who they are. You're equals.
In law school I learned how to ask questions that people had to answer. I won't try and teach that to you at this time. But, as an interviewer, you need to learn how to construct your questions in a way that will get the true answers. Don't ask questions that will get a simple "yes" or "no" more than you have to.
The key to a good interview is to first have all the technical issues worked out. The sound, the video, all that should be working as it should. Then, prepare for the interview. Know your guest. Know what he's done. Know about his personal life. Know it all. Then, ask questions that show you care.
Oprah and Ellen are two of the greatest interviewers. Notice how they are open about themselves with their guests and yet how they pull their guests out with their warmth and compassion. Watch these two in interviews and you'll soon see how a good interview is conducted.
Bombing in an interview is not a good thing. You'll never have a chance to undo a bad interview.
interview techniques, oprah, ellen, how to interview, interview skills, podcasts, interviewing