The Secret to Interviews, Part 2

Based on feedback, I’d like to post a few more tips on the subject of How to Do Interviews.

Bear in mind, the original post, was written to emphasize the most important of all these points; In line with what you’re trying too achieve marketing-wise or otherwise, find out what the person likes to talk about, be interested, listen to what they have to say, and acknowledge what they’ve said once they’ve said it. This is simply a partial distillation of the whole subject of good communication, and the original post expanded on that somewhat.

In the excellent feedback, others shared some of their tips in doing interviews, all things I’ve done myself as have many interviewers, so let’s round them up. Let’s also remember they are tips and tricks and can only really be effective if the point in bold above is also in place.

1.  An old film director trick is to announce a rehearsal to the actors on the set. He then winks at the cameraman who rolls the camera during the “rehearsal”. It’s a bit hit and miss, but often enough it’s the best take of the day.  A savvy director knows when to do this though based on his observation of the actors up to that point.

2. For an interviewer that same approach can be even more effective as he or she is often dealing with non-actors who are a bit put off by the camera and lights. So when everything is technically set up, the interviewer turns on the camera and sits down and starts “chatting about the up-coming interview.” Very relaxed and conversational. For example, ” I’d like to cover these various topics (A, B, C…). Which of those is closest to your heart? Chat about that one a bit and steer the person through the aspects that seem to make his eyes light up–the things he seems most familiar with or seems to like to talk about.

There are all kinds of things you can say to put him at ease along the way.  ” Go ahead, let your hair down, etc.”

Just lightly breeze through all the topics you want to cover.

(make sure you either turn off or tape off your red camera running light!)

Some of your best material may drop into your lap here.

Don’t say anything about it.

Finally tell him the “interview” won’t be any more complicated than that. Get up and “turn on the camera” and then proceed with the interview.

My advice is to start with his best topic (based on responses so far) and say, “I’m fascinated by your opinion on (Topic B). Can you tell me a bit more about that?”

You see, he’s already warmed up to the fact that this is easier than he thought it would be and now he gets to talk about something he likes to talk about and the interviewer seems interested in.

Now you’re set up to roll through the whole interview and have a good chance of getting even better material.

But please don’t tell them that you rolled the camera from the beginning. Maybe when the whole edit is done, sure, but not now. For one, you don’t want to come across as having “tricked” him or her, and secondly, you don’t want to introvert him into the process or start editing himself as he “said that already earlier”.

By the way, I’m not advising that you do this all the time. I don’t. But it can be helpful if you’re just starting off as an interviewer and learning the ropes of how to get usable material.

3.  Remember, an interview is simply a steered conversation. You don’t always have to ask a question to get an answer. It can be much more effective to make a comment on something they just said–which will get them to continue talking about it.  Or, when they seem confident enough, you can play devil’s advocate and state some opposing point of view–” you know, most people think______”, or, “I’ve heard (some opposing point of view)”, or “how do you handle people who think (opposing or different point of view)?”  and that gets them to really start explaining and expanding on the point.

4. Don’t turn off the camera. If you have to get up to adjust a light or mop some sweat off their brow, just let it run. You’ll kick yourself the day they say that killer line when the camera was off. And it happens all the time.

5. Don’t ever ask someone to “say something again”. Yep, if you screw it up and have to ask that question, you’ll never get it the same again because they’ll be trying to remember what they said as opposed to just communicating. It unnecessarily introverts them. Just work around it and try to come back from a different angle to get them to say it again. If you’re lucky, it will be even better. If you’re not, just kick yourself later.

6. Don’t ever ask someone to repeat something but with different wording, or ” can you say that and end with a smile this time?”  If you do that, don’t wait. Just kick yourself right there on the spot. That’s the mark of an amateur interviewer.

7. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a good statement has to be said with a smile. Conviction, yes. Emotion, yes. Heart-felt, yes. Smiles are optional. That “must smile” business is just years of conditioning to crappy Madison Avenue marketing where everyone is always smiling all the time which is a good part of the reason they’re so unconvincing. How many ads have you seen where people are pointing to and smiling at their laptops? Looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s just not real. Not 100% of the time anyway.

8. (thanks to David Bonyun for reminding me):  A great last question to any interview is some form of this one (and this is what I ask): “Is there anything I should have asked you and didn’t?”  David’s version is this: “Is there anything you wish I asked you about today that I missed?”

A good interviewer puts his or her interviewee at ease and then engages in friendly conversation that makes the person happy and willing to talk to you. That should be the easy part. The hard part is at the same time steering the interview to the end of obtaining quality, usable material for the purpose intended.

3 responses

  1. So true. Active listening and reflecting on what people are saying, is essential to good communication. Too many people do not listed, but rather use the time when others are speaking to compose their next statement.

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Don't just sit there...say something!

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