How to Interview like the Best

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When you make it to a big market as a broadcaster, one of the most thrilling perks is the opportunity to speak with famous people on the air. When someone asks if you want to speak to Chris Rock, who would say no?

However, I once heard Chris Rock do one of history’s most deadly dull radio interviews. He is usually fantastic, but the truth about celebrities is that while they are entertaining as singers, actors or athletes, most do not know how to hold a compelling on-air conversation. You should beware of saying “yes to the guest” too quickly because interviews are often a PPM killer.

There are good guest management practices, preparation techniques and behind the scenes secrets that you can learn from some of the best broadcast interviewers in the business.

Prep like Terry Gross. You can only wish to be as ready for an interview as the host of NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Terry complains that she has no social life because before a guest comes into her studio, she reads everything they’ve written, everything they’ve recorded, watches every one of their movies or TV shows. Everything. That level of interest impresses most guests and they will open up more on Fresh Air than anywhere else. Celebrities and notables often say that it is a career goal to be interviewed by Terry Gross.

Shut up and listen like Ellen Degeneres. When Amy Schumer appeared on her show, Ellen sat silent, listening and laughing, sometimes not saying a word for nearly 90 seconds. Because why would anyone interrupt Amy Schumer, right? Ellen knows to give great guests the spotlight even though she is compelling and hilarious in her own right. If you compare CBS’s Charlie Rose and Ellen, they have similar styles of listening first and responding second. Most hosts have that reversed. Also, Ellen also surprises guests a lot. She’ll have someone in a bear costume jump out of a hidden compartment to scare a guest, and sometimes she’ll surprise the guest with a gift or some other fun gesture.

Herd your guests like Howard Stern. No matter how big and important the guest is, Howard Stern is going to interrupt them. Howard finishes their sentences, and asks the next question before the guest has completely finished answering the last one, and the end result is that the conversation moves along quickly and doesn’t get boring. If you listen to Howard interviewing someone with Robin Quivers, you will notice that they sort work together as interview sheep dogs herding the guest along to where they want the interview to go.

Ask really personal questions like Chelsea Handler. When pop star Drake appeared on “Chelsea Lately,” Chelsea allowed him to get comfortable, then asked, “Are you still penetrating Rihanna?” Terri Gross is a lot more polite, but she probes guests just as deeply about their personal thoughts, asks about their feelings and gets nosy about their relationships. Now, neither Chelsea or Terri ask those probing personal questions first thing, but both the guests and audience know that their conversations head for serious intimacy before too long.

Prep your guests like Jimmy Kimmel. When Randy visited Jimmy recently, he learned that every guest on his TV show is prepped to bring stories before they set foot on the set. No guest goes on the air without prepared stories. If Leonardo DiCaprio is coming on to discuss “The Revenant,” producers prep him to tell a story about his own personal experience filming of the movie, where he was and what he did the moment he learned of his Oscar nomination or what funny thing happened to him driving down to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.

If you get bored during today’s Super Bowl pre-game show, Google some of the interview segments done by the people that I have mentioned here. Watch and listen carefully and you will pick up effective ways to turn your next interview from a tune-out into a tune-in.


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