A friend asked me the other day how I interview people, and at first, I didn't really know how to respond. It's never been something I've thought about, but more something I've done because I find myself in that position from time to time. Especially these days.
And yet, it was a great question: how do I interview people (for the purposes of media and communications and not job interviews)?
My first answer would be that it's more art than science. There really isn't a step-by-step approach to making an interview go off well. But I have found after reflecting that there are a few things I've learned or intuitively done that helps when I'm interviewing people—whether for film, podcasts, or writing a print piece.
So I figured I'd share a few of those things to a) help me process those concepts and b) hopefully get a conversation with others who are trying to answer the same question. So without further ado, here's six things I've learned about making an interview go off well.
Nobody likes a fake person. Especially a fake interviewer. Most people are coming into the interview with their guard up and are likely afraid to share who they really are. If you make a conscious effort to be you, whatever you looks like, then chances are they will let their guard down and be themselves too. And that's when the good stuff comes out.
Meet them where they're at. Not where you want them to be.
It's great to research the subject you'll be talking about, learn about the interviewee, or know what you're going to ask before you show up, but don't let that dictate everything that happens in the interview. Don't be a 21 question machine gun. Try starting with one of two opening questions: what is it that you would like to talk about? What are you excited about? Awesome stuff comes out when you ask this.
Respond to their response.
This seems like common sense, but it happens all the time. The interviewer asks the question, and the interviewee responds, only to have the interviewer completely bulldoze through the response and move onto something else. If all you have to say is cool or awesome to something someone has just told you, you shouldn't be the one asking questions. Really listen and respond with what you think. This makes the interview more conversational, which is key. When people are in conversation they are more likely to be open. If they feel like you're not interested in what they are actually saying, then they will lose interest.
If you have an emotional response—be it sadness, happiness, excitement, or whatever—that's awesome. Run with it. If you don't, try and empathize—understand what the other person feels, felt, or might feel like—instead of performing. Just ask: and how is that for you? How does that feel? What does that look like to you? Again, nobody likes a faker!
Know when to shut up.
Know when to push, and know when to back off. Know when to talk, and know when to listen. Know when to ask, and know when to tell. Know when to follow, and know when to lead.
You know all of these things by listening to your gut and judging as best as you can where the other person is at and then responding appropriately. Just like real life conversations.
You don't know everything.
Know when to say I don't know. It's refreshing. It doesn't make you look bad.