How to be a better interviewer? Great interviewers were made, not born. It takes practice, work, and making lots of mistakes. Here are resources that helped me prepare as I launched the Inspired Money podcast. The good news is that there is not just one way to do it. Find the way that works best for you, then rinse and repeat.
They say that hitting episode 100 is the milestone equivalent to a podcaster graduating from high school so I am a mere 2nd semester freshman. I know that I've only just begun and can improve... a lot! My quest to become a better interviewer is ongoing, and I'm proactively learning. Over the past 6 months, I created my own master class on conducting interviews by reading, listening, and watching everything I could find to sharpen my skills. Whether you are a podcaster, want to be a better conversationalist, or aim to ace your next job interview, I hope this article and list of resources helps you.
Things You Should Do
I've heard some people say that they want their podcast to be natural and conversational so they do not want to over prepare or prepare at all. IMHO, the greatest interviewers make it look easy and natural. However, in fact, they have done the preparation (read books/articles, listened to existing interviews, and set a plan.) The truth is that you are competing for your audience's attention. In response, you need to create the best content possible and preparation plays an important role in doing that.
Once you've done your homework, set a plan and have an idea where you want to go. How to be a better interviewer is really a set of guidelines because there is no one-size-fits all approach that guarantees interviewing success. Rather, there are many approaches and it can be highly individualistic. For example, James Lipton, the creator, executive-producer, writer and host of Inside the Actors Studio, typically has a list of scripted questions. Nobody can contest his success with the 94 million American homes that he reaches. Find your own approach, do your prep, and then, let it go. I think the last step is what translates into delivering a "natural" interview. By letting go of all the research that you did, you are well prepared yet free to be present, listen, and flexible to allow the interview to change directions naturally.
Be a Great Host
Your job as the host is multi-faceted. First, it's your role to make your guest feel welcome and comfortable. Be gracious and generous.
Second, you are responsible for driving the interview so it is important that you maintain control. Allow interesting tangents to happen but appropriately bring the conversation back on topic.
Use techniques to get the best tape out of your guests. Ask open ended questions... What, How, and Why. As host, you may share a great story but be concise. Let your guest shine. Your ultimate goal is to bring out the best content for your audience, and nobody knows your audience better than you do.
Questions to Ask to Elicit Story
I got this list from Tim Ferriss' book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers in the chapter where he interviewed Gimlet Media's Alex Blumberg.
- Phrasing questions is important
- Tell me about the time when…
- Tell me about the day/moment that you realized…
- Tell me the story of…
- You're on the right track when people are talking in dialogue (the he said, she said…)
- Describe the conversation when…
- Tell me the day you realized what we're talking about…
- What were steps that took you from A to B (sequence… breaking down…)
Things You Should Not Do
According to Pat Flynn at Smarter Passive Income, 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.
For these tips and more visit Pat Flynn's Top 10 Tips for Conducting an Exceptional Interview.
Additional Resources That Helped Me
- 6 Powerful Communication Tips From Some of the World’s Best Interviewers
- The Art of the Interview
- EARFUL: Marc Maron Discusses the Perfect Interview
- Copyblogger: Conduct Better Podcast Interviews with This Simple 6-Step Preparation Process
- Confessor. Feminist. Adult. What the Hell Happened to Howard Stern?
- No, Your Podcast Isn’t Conversational, It’s Sloppy
- The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn - this 16 episode series about our greatest living interviewers is hosted by Jesse Thorn and produced by Maximum Fun and The Columbia Journalism Review. Want interviews about interviewing? This is fantastic.
- Rolf Potts: Bestselling author Tim Ferriss on how to create a successful podcast
- Tim Ferriss interviews Alex Blumberg: How to Create a Blockbuster Podcast (Part 1)
- Tim Ferriss: How to Create a Blockbuster Podcast (Part 2)
- Noah Kagan: How to Have More Engaging Conversations — with Jordan Harbinger
- The Showrunner: No. 105 How to Conduct Not-to-Miss Podcast Interviews
- Marc Pachter: The Art of the Interview
- Mike Dronkers: How to Interview "Almost" Anyone
- Katie Couric on how to conduct a good interview
- Larry King - Interviewing Tips (2 of 7)