Have you ever walked around an art gallery, looked at all of the beautiful paintings, and stated out loud to the people around you ‘I really wish I could paint like that’? Or maybe you have been having dinner at a fancy restaurant and in the corner of the room was someone playing the piano beautifully and you say to your date ‘I wish I knew how to play like that’? Like painting and playing the piano, interviewing is a true art.
At face value, some people were born to ask questions and some were not. But don’t be discouraged, the art of of interviewing, like painting and piano, can be learned. Here are five tips to help you become a successful interviewer.
1. Do Your Research
It probably goes without saying that it is important for an interviewer to have done some research into a topic before conducting an interview, yet it happens all the time. I hate seeing interviewers who don’t know at least the basics of what they want to talk about. It makes you as an interviewer sound lazy, and wastes valuable interview time as your talent gives you a crash course in the topic.
You MUST do plenty of research into both the topic and your talent before you arrive at your interview. Not only is it important so you, as the interviewer, can look knowledgeable, but it will give you the confidence you need to conduct the interview and ask skillful questions. It is also a well known fact that people like to talk to others with similar interests, so if you can connect on even a basic knowledge level with your talent then you have already broken down a barrier between you.
Sometimes you may not know much about the person, especially if you are just finding out about their story. If this is the case try to spend some considerable time with them beforehand without any recording equipment. Doing this will help give you some background into the situation and help make your talent more comfortable with you around.
Your talent wants to feel like your taking an interest in them, so if you have taken the extra step to do some research on their field or their background they will want to open up more with you. If you remember to research thoroughly you are well on your way to interview success.
2. Be Prepared To Ask Questions
Have you ever been watching 60 minutes and wondered how, in just a few minutes, the interviewer can get someone to open their soul? The secret is simple. Not only have the interviewers done research, but many interviews are planned and structured. Good interviews take careful preparation.
Preparation in this sense means to go through your research and come up with a list of questions which you want to ask. Write them down, read them, re-word them, group like questions, sequence them, and order them.
Sometimes it is great to start off an interview with a ‘bombshell’ type question, but what you lead with really depends on who your interviewing. A major sporting talent who has been in the news for sex scandals might expect a question like that to lead an interview, but if your interviewing anyone else, generally, it is good to start with some softening questions. These are the type which make the talent feel like they are in control of the interview and makes them comfortable. E.g ‘What’s your latest movie about?’ ‘How did you find working with this person again?’ Gradually work your way to the harder or more confronting questions. Interviewing is a process.
Planing and structure will help you feel ready to ask the questions, it will give you some direction, and should give you plenty of interesting questions to ask.
3. Go With The Flow
What I mean by this is to be prepared to change your interview on the fly based on what your talent is saying. Too often people go into interviews with their questions prepared and only willing to ask the questions they have in front of them. Doing so makes the interview sound scripted.
The art of a successful interview is as much about making your interview sound natural when your asking questions as it is about the preparation. This means using your script as a guide to get you started and being prepared to ask other questions and mould your interview as you go.
If you have been ready to ask questions, and have gotten the first few softening questions out of the road, then sometimes people will start to reveal really interesting things about themselves which you had not known about. How could you possibly have planned for such things? These are the comments which will make your interview really interesting. Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper.
Knowing how to defer from your script, go with the flow, and take an interview deeper, is what will separate the experienced interviewer from the inexperienced.
4. Open Your Ears
Do you want to know why Oprah is such a popular talk-show host? It’s not just about all her big gifts to the audience, though I’m sure those help. But it is because she has mastered probably the most important art of interviewing – the ability to listen and pay attention. She likes to take interest in the talent.
As an interviewer the worst thing you can do during an interview is to not listen to what your talent is saying. If you don’t listen carefully then you are at risk of receiving answers which start with the dreaded ‘like I said before’. You really don’t want this! It makes your talent feel unappreciated and undervalued. They have given you the valuable commodity of time, don’t annoy them by not paying attention.
If you have been given the privilege of an interview, listen and pay attention. It will make your talent feel like you care about them and what they have to say. They will also feel more comfortable around you and more likely to open up.
5. Stay In Control
This is a difficult one to work on and may take quite a bit of practice. Sometimes during an interview you may find your talent will start going off on tangents and talking about all manner of topics. While this can sometimes be good, most of the time it is important to know when and how to draw them back to what you really want to talk about.
Media personalities, politicians, sporting legends, will all have had media training. They know how to take control an interview so that they can get their PR message out. Your job is to keep them focused on your questions. It is important that you try to remain in control.
If your new to interviewing this can be difficult, it’s hard to know the right time to cut someone off. You have to give them a short leash. Much of the skill of controlling an interview is in knowing how to bring someone back to the topic. A comment like ‘getting back to what you were saying about….’ is a good and easy way to refocus your interview.
One of the best ways to learn interviewing skills is to watch some interviewers whom you really admire and see how they do it. Becoming a successful interviewer takes a lot of time, practice, preparation and hard work.
If you are ready to to put in the extra effort you can become a successful interviewer. Doing so will in turn make you more confident as a person and help your projects to be more dynamic.