Interview-based content can be utterly compelling — or totally yawn-inducing. Use these conversational strategies to get the most out of your next Q&A.
From magazine cover stories to the nightly news, in-depth, original interviews make for an excellent addition to any content pipeline.
But while some interview-based features make global headlines for the juicy details revealed by their subjects, others — though just as worthy of attention — may become buried in the 24-hour news cycle. Below, we’ll take a look at the strategies any interviewer can employ to skip the snooze fest and get to the good stuff.
1. Make the Subject Feel Comfortable
This should go without saying. While being asked for an interview is certainly flattering, it remains for many people a nerve-wracking experience.
It’s important to be warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic throughout the interaction. Be sure to provide context for your story, explaining when you plan to publish the piece, where it will be posted or printed, and what kind of questions you’ll be asking over the course of the conversation.
The more transparent you are off the bat, the more likely your subject will be to open up during the course of your conversation. And with the interview properly contextualized, they might even take the lead and bring up valuable points that you hadn’t thought to ask about.
2. Get Them Talking About Their Strengths
Flaunting one’s own victories doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but most people — especially accomplished, interesting, interview-worthy people — enjoy being asked about their strengths. That’s why it’s essential to strategically tee up questions that cast your subject in a positive light and encourage her to discuss her successes.
Instead of asking, “what’s your secret to success?” re-frame the question to avoid a self-deprecating answer: “Your manager Kevin suggested we spotlight you in an article because of your consistent high performance. Could you talk a little bit about the successes that have defined your career?” By leading with praise and narrowing the scope of the question to specific instances of success, the subject will likely feel less embarrassed to speak about her achievements.
3. Do Your Homework
Whether you’re interviewing a corporate executive or a famous musician, it’s essential to research your subject’s professional and personal background. Not only will the investigative process help you to familiarize yourself with her accomplishments and body of work, but you’ll also be able to steer clear of questions she’s already answered publicly.
While it never hurts to ask for additional information on a hot topic — that GQ Style reporter couldn’t have been the first to ask Brad Pitt about his split from Angelina, but he managed to land the scoop — your subject will notice and appreciate your efforts to cover new ground.
So instead of asking Mark Zuckerberg how he thinks social media has changed the way we communicate, get his take on the political situation in Chechnya, or ask what initially attracted him to his wife. Skip the obvious line of questioning and get the subject’s take on something new.
4. Ask Open-Ended Questions
This one might be the most important tip on the list. Review your list of questions before your interview and determine whether any of them can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Then, re-craft them to invite lengthier, open-ended responses.
Not Quite: “Do you like your job?”
Just Right: “What do you like about your job?”
Not Quite: “How many years have you been in this business?”
Just Right: To what do you attribute your consistent long-term success?
Not Quite: “Do politics impact your industry?”
Just Right: “How have recent political developments impacted your business?”
5. Anticipate Possible Outcomes and Plan Accordingly
As you develop your list of questions or topics, look into your crystal ball. What kinds of responses will shape an interesting narrative arc? Alternatively, what will you do if the subject refuses to answer one of your questions? While you should avoid entering into an interview with the story already written in your mind, be sure to map out hypothetical directions in which the conversation could lead you to avoid getting caught on your heels.
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