The Art of the Interview

 In Blog

Interviews don’t work in PPM. That is conventional wisdom from many programmers. We disagree. Poor execution is the reason that interviews don’t hold the meters. The best interviews are natural conversations rather than a series of stiff questions and answers. While strong interviewers look easy, it takes both practice and planning to achieve this natural engagement.

Choose the Right Guests

Be selective of the guests you book. Here’s a sample guest filter that you can modify to your own guidelines. If you answer “yes” to at least two of the questions on your filter, book the guest. (This filter will unfortunately eliminate many comics from your local comedy club and many representatives from your local non-profit. Sorry.)

Guest Filter

  1. Is there broad interest and popularity for the guest from your audience?
  2. Do you (or someone on your show) have a genuine interest (positive or negative) in the guest?
  3. Does the guest have a reputation for being an engaging and entertaining interview?
  4. Do they support a cause that’s important to your audience, to you personally, or your brand?
  5. Can they tell stories and will they participate in your show?

Preparation before the Interview 

  • Ask all guests to bring a story for the interview to humanize them to your audience. Think about the late night talk shows. All guests are required to come with stories – or they do not go on the show.
  • Weave the guest into your show so the interview isn’t a content island. Have them participate in one of your features or an interactive with your audience. Consider how Kimmel and Fallon invite guests to read “mean tweets” or play games with water guns.
  • Prep! Prep! Prep! Read everything you can about your guests. Listen or watch their other interviews. Know what they’re promoting, whether it’s a new book, webinar, documentary, etc.
  • “What would my audience ask this person?” What can I ask that may get me tweeted? Go in with the intention of creating a memorable conversation that could go viral.
  • Write out your questions in advance, then ask the questions out loud to check that they sound natural and spontaneous. If you need notes during the interview, edit them down to keywords so that your questions sound more conversational.
  • What’s the emotional center of the topic? Dig to find the “real issue” instead of scratching the surface with your questions. For example, if you are an expert in health and fitness interviewing a client who has transformed her life, ask questions that evoke emotional answers. Instead of asking, “So how much weight have you lost since you signed up one year ago?”, ask “What is the difference between how you feel today and how you felt one year ago when you first started?” This question may reveal stories of insecurity, confidence, increased energy, fear of aging or death- the emotional centers of health and fitness.
  • Follow their updates on Twitter the week before your interview. This peek into what he or she has been up to may give you content that adds a conversational, friendly tone to the interview. For example, “So I saw on Twitter that you were in Toronto last week. What did you do there?” That could prompt a story.
  • Send a few tweets to your guest or post on their Facebook page before the interview to establish a base relationship beforehand.
  • Share the details of your interview on your social media profiles. Pique fans’ interest by sharing a question you plan to ask. Or let them share the questions they would like you to ask your guest.
  • Let the audience in on “The Big Question.” As you’re teasing the interview, reveal the biggest, most important or controversial question you are going to ask. This technique adds drama, suspense and anticipation. It also lets the audience see “behind the scenes.”

One famous interviewer does little prep for interviews, while another famous interviewer preps so much that she has almost no social life. Find out why next week in The Art of the Interview, Part II. Plus PPM best practices.


Photo Credit: Alex Naanou/Flickr

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