I've been binge listening to Sarah Koenig riveting podcast "Serial" (yes, I know I am behind on the podcast times) and it's got my wheels turning about interview tactics.
Sarah is a phenomenal interviewer. She has a subtle way of making everyone she speaks to feel like a buddy, like she's on your side, even when she's asking very tough questions. So how the hell does she do it? And this is something that is integral to my day to day. Granted here at Q Media we're not solving old murder cases, but we are trying to piece together a story or uncover an emotional side of something that's not always at the forefront.
I've been very lucky to learn from the experts that surrounded me. My dad, Laine Drewery is a fantastic (yes, I'm biased) documentary producer and my superhero mum, Nancy Wilson spent several decades as an on-air journalist (from Canada AM to CBC mornings) interviewing heavy hitters like Gorbachev and Leonard Cohen. I've got some pretty great brains to pick at home. And Q Media senior partners Richard and Dorothy have had extensive experience interviewing everyone from financial greats to the Liberal Leader himself.
So here's what I've learned so far, and don't get me wrong, I've got a lot more learning to do:
1. Think Before You Ask
Throughout her career, my mum has interviewed a lot of people who have been interviewed before. The key to getting genuine responses from people is to ask questions that feel fresh to them. Find interesting tidbits about the person you are speaking to and capitalize on them. Watch or read other interviews with them if you can and think about what has never been asked about.
2. Preparation Beyond Research
Who are you interviewing? What would they consider to be respectful? A few years ago my dad interviewed one of his heroes, Chuck Yeager. In preparation, he thought to himself, well, Chuck's an army man, so I should be clean cut, clean-shaven and well dressed. Doing this little extra research into your profilee's world might earn you some additional respect before you even start the interview.
3. Genuine Interest
Both my mum and my dad are genuinely interested in people. I've had life-long friends over to dinner with either parent and suddenly I'm hearing stories about my friend I've never heard before. My parents are constantly seeking to learn more about people. When interviewing, do the same thing. What about this profilee genuinely interests you personally? Ask them a couple of questions that are totally outside the box or outside your structured interview and you might just get some golden responses.
4. Shut Up
For those of you who don't know me, I'm a talker. So this is one I constantly have to remind myself of. You can't use a clip where you're babbling all over the top or tail of an interview sound bite. So once they open their mouths, shut yours. Even if it means sitting and staring for an awkward five seconds after they've finished their response. Sometimes, that silence triggers them to sum up their response -- making a perfect sound bite.
5. Get Them Comfortable
We interview a lot of people who have never been on-camera before. And when your profilee is nervous, their answers might sound strained, rehearsed or disjointed. So get them comfortable before you even start. Introduce your team. See if they have any questions. Chat a little about some of the questions you want to discuss. If you chat prior to when the camera turns on, it will help make your profilee feel as though the experience is just a conversation between the two of you, not a formal interview. They may be nervous off the top, so remember to re-ask those first few questions closer to the end of the interview.
6. Work Backwards
So much of getting a good response, or getting what you need, relies on you, the interviewer. Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone is going to be a perfect interview. It's your job to pull out that story. So, I work backwards when I write my questions. What is my story? What parts of it do I need my profilee to tell? Once I nail down the content I need, I begin to write two or three questions aimed to pull out that specific piece of content, piece-by-piece. Although you may go off book, or you may find during your interview some questions you wrote are irrelevant, your questions will act as the backbone to structure your conversation and pull out the story you need.
These are just tactics that have helped me. Everyone develops their own style and their own tricks. My advice? Bring energy, genuine curiosity, do your homework and you're sure to get something great.
So what are your tactics? Tell me all of your secrets in the comments below.
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