May 23, 2016

Five Tips for Giving "Good Interview"


Three interviews in seven days. That hasn't happened to me in a long time. But in the past week, I was interviewed for a one-hour podcast and two magazine articles. In reflecting on these three experiences, a couple of takeaways surfaced that may be of use to you. The podcast, which focus on intentional professional development/learning and much more is available for free in the iTunes store.

1. Prepare to Be Present

Each interviewer shared 4-6 advance questions to help me prepare. Particularly for folks who are detail oriented, the challenge is to not overprepare. For a podcast interview that should sound conversational, this is especially important.

My preparation standard for each interview was the one I use when designing a workshop: prepare to be present.  The question to ask yourself is: What preparation (including reference notes) will allow me to be present, to be actively engaged in the conversation as it unfolds in real-time?

Maybe you need to think through every possible piece of information you will share. If that gives you confidence, have at it. Do overprepare, but just underpresent during the actual interview.

My notes were a single sheet divided into two columns: (1) key points and (2) stories or examples. For each advance question, I noted one or two key points and a practical illustration or two for each point. ProTip: I typed and printed this out in a large font for easier reference during the interview rather than rely on my increasingly poor handwriting. 

2. Pace Yourself

One interview danger is giving rambling answers that make it difficult to follow your main point.  But it also is unhelpful if you are so concise that your comment lacks color or fails to offer a good follow-up prompt for the interviewer. The sweet spot is somewhere in between. In face-to-face conversations, an interviewer's nonverbals can help us with that calibration.

Lacking those cues in a telephone discussion, I create a feedback loop for myself. Every time I start to answer a question, I initiate the stopwatch on my phone. This gives me a real-time indicator for how long I have been speaking and helps me keep my answers thorough, but not excessively long.

3, Get Comfortable and Conversational

Vocal inflection and speaking rhythm make a podcast interview come alive. Who wants to listen to a one-hour recording that sounds like a dry doctoral dissertation defense? The podcasts I find most compelling make me feel like I'm eavesdropping on a conversation among passionate people eager to learn from each other. To project that to a listener, it is important to get comfortable so you can be conversational.

When interviewed for the podcast, I was in relaxed clothing, with a cup of my favorite coffee blend, and seated in the most comfortable chair in my house: I was in my element.  For this interview I had printed out my two-column notes in an extra large font and taped it on an adjacent wall easily seen from my chair. Why? I wanted my hands free so that I could gesture just as I would in an actual conversation. For part of the recording, I even stood while talking to bring even more energy into my voice and responses.

4. Provide Implications and Applications

You want to convey both your personality and the content or insights that readers or listeners can use. To ensure the latter, make an effort to include the so what (implications) and now what (applications) for any ideas or trends you share. Readers and listeners are bombarded with content. Help them to see the relevance of your key points and how they can use your information. Here's an example from a question I was asked for one article: What is one of the best investments an organization can make to enhance the participant experience at its conferences?
My key point (the what): Too many presenters lack training in how to present. Better speaker preparation can yield great returns for a relatively low investment

Implication (the so what): Subject matter experts often lead conference sessions. While they may possess content mastery, they often are less confident and capable in designing meaningful ways to engage participants with it. Session quality is uneven and participants don't get the knowledge they seek.

Application (the now what): I recommend at minimum three simple speaker support resources: (1) teach the fundamentals of great session design and facilitation in a live webinar and/or on demand video clips, (2) provide "before and after" outlines showing transforming traditional session designs into more engaging learning experiences, and (3) gather and publish practical tips from your top-rated volunteer speakers.
5. Offer a Memorable Shareable

No pressure, right? But just as a conference speaker tries to create at least one catchy takeaway that participants share on social media, so does a good interview subject proffer at least one interesting sound byte that an editor jumps to use as an article pull quote.  Help them out by crafting a memorable way to express one of the points you hope has staying power with the audience.

What else have you found helpful to make yourself a better interview?