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how to conduct a great interview: punctuations + emotion

Charlie Rose. Oprah. Barbara Walters. For Canadian props, I’m adding George Strombopoulous and Jian Gomeshi to the list.

Deft, smooth and penetrating interviewers. Here’s a few reasons why they get the goods:

12 tips for getting a meaningful interview
  • Give an intro that makes your interviewee sound like a rock star. For these reasons: you want to get your audience excited, you want to prime their mind for a meaningful experience. You want to show immediate respect for your subject. You may not adore them, but you need to respect them. And you want to lift the energy UP from the get go. So rave as sincerely as you can.
  • Keep the intro to your guest pointed and short. Ramble off their most impressive accomplishments — the facts, and give a few words about how your perceive them — emotional connection, and then get down to business. The audience is waiting to hear from your guest, not to hear you talking about talking to your guest.
  • Go for punctuated moments, not flow. This is one of the biggest errors that interviewers make: they try to make a conversation flow from topic to topic. What happens is that in an attempt to be smooth, the interview goes flat. Questions can be unrelated, quirky, unguarded. Change directions. Think: “staccato”, or “fun house tour”. You have a very short time to cover a lot of territory so it’s okay if it feels like more of a sprint than a stroll.
  • Do NOT ask this, the most dreaded question of all interviewees: “So tell me how you got to where you are?” If you watch people get asked this question, you can see them sigh heavily before they attempt to sift through the salient highlights of their entire life. What the interviewee wants to say is, “Are you kidding? I’m 40 years old, how’d I get here? Read my bio.” Instead, if they’re polite, they’ll regurge the key moments that earned them their authority. Either way, it’s painful.
  • Study — and refer to — other interviews they’ve given. Oprah is especially good at saying, “I read that you… Is that true?” Bringing other interview content into the conversation does a few things: it makes it clear that you care enough to do your homework. It gives you content. It helps flesh out the character of your subject.
  • Listen, really listen. This is difficult to do because you want to be sure you know what the next question is. But presence will take you where you need to go. In the event that you do go blank…
  • Always have a backup Q that you can toss in whimsically if things go sideways.
  • Don’t talk about yourself very much (we’re focused on the guest,) but do have an opinion (we want to trust you).
  • Assume that nobody has ever heard of your guest, no matter how known you think they are, and sprinkle in factoids and references “So when you wrote your last book, The Tale of …”
  • This question often cracks things wide open (or clams ‘em up): “How did you feel when…”
  • Run the interview. You’re the track, your guest is the train. The stronger the container you provide for your interviewee, the more they’ll pour into it.
  • Treat them like they’re world famous, even if they aren’t… yet. Respect. Gratitude. Best wishes.