Warning: the following Very blog includes shameless name-dropping. However, it’s all for a good cause, hopefully helping others to achieve the best results from the interview process.
As communicators, interviews are vital. And an interview shouldn’t be thought about only in the traditional sense. After all, we ‘interview’ people daily, whether we realise it or not. It’s all part of the way we gather, store and share information.
Interviewing skills are especially important when your task is to produce content, be it an article, campaign, social media strategy, web content, newsletter, brochure, personality or business profile and so on.
So, what is the secret to a really good interview? The answer is the questions.
As content creators, our job is to be the best communicators we can be for our clients. How much easier that task becomes if we have the best information at our disposal. That’s where good interviewing comes in.
Before co-founding Very Media, I spent the bulk of my career as a journalist. At a conservative estimate, I conducted about 9000 interviews in that time, including the privilege of interviewing some of the most famous and fascinating people in the world. (Mind you, just because someone is famous doesn’t always make them fascinating).
Here are a few highlights –
Name-dropping list 1: Musicians
Elvis Costello, George Thorogood, John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes, INXS, Australian Crawl, Hunters and Collectors, Slim Dusty, Randy Crawford, Tim Finn, Neil Finn, Paul Kelly, Ian Moss, Colin Hay, Jose Carreras, Daryl Braithwaite, Clare Bowditch, Don McLean, Little Feat, Little River Band, Hoodoo Gurus, Meat Loaf, Mental as Anything, Radiators, Radio Birdman, Peter Allen, Midnight Oil, Madness, Johnny Cash, Billy Thorpe, Marcia Hines, Jon English, Cleo Laine, Vince Jones, Renee Geyer, Jeff Buckley, Jimmy Witherspoon, Robert Plant, Brownie McGhee, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Engelbert Humperdinck, Weird Al Yankovic, Joan Armatrading, Joe Cocker, kd lang, Peter Frampton, Tommy Emmanuel, Alice Cooper, Screaming Jets, BB King, Kenny Wayne Shephard and the Young Talent Team!
Now these are the kinds of people who know all about interviews. They’ve done hundreds and thousands of them, often providing the same answers to the same unchallenging and unimaginative questions. Safe, but boring!
Interview tip #1: Ask less obvious questions
On the advice of my first editor, I took a different tack by doing a little targeted research and then asking still relevant, but less obvious questions. I didn’t ignore the obvious; I just didn’t focus on it. I’m happy to say this led to some enlightening, enjoyable and often surprising conversations. The articles I wrote, I believe, were richer for the strategy.
This was also repeated across other areas.
Name-dropping list 2: Actors, authors and assorted celebs
Sir Peter Ustinov, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Christopher Lambert, William McInnes, Tim Winton, David Malouf, Jeffrey Archer, Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes, Monica McInerney, Peter Carey, Margaret Atwood, Ken Follett, Bert Newton, Nick Earls, Douglas Adams, Billy Connolly, Kathy Lette, Lynda La Plante, Colleen McCullough, John Mortimer, Roddy Doyle, Richard Flanagan, Kate Grenville, Ronald Biggs, Stuart Diver, Tom Keneally, HG Nelson, Matthew Reilly.
I told you it was shameless, but I may as well keep going.
Name-dropping list 3: Sports of all sorts
Ricky Ponting, Layne Beachley, Susie O’Neil, Dawn Fraser, Robert de Castella, Greg Chappell, David Boon, Laurie Lawrence, Andrew Gaze, Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, various AFL and NRL stars, Jane Flemming, Susie Maroney, Trevor Hendy, Mark Occhilupo, Max Walker, Ian Baker-Finch and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Name dropping list 4: Politicians and royalty
Bob Hawke, John Howard, Malcolm Fraser, Rob Borbidge, Wayne Goss, Anna Bligh, five Tasmanian premiers, four Gold Coast mayors, the King of Tonga and Princess Diana (well, for about five seconds in Launceston, but I’m counting it).
I could keep going, but the point is that most times the ensuing article was all the better for the interview exploring beyond the obvious. That can work with clients too. Again, the key is in the preparation and the major benefit is to establish a point of difference. As we all know, point of difference is very important for our clients.
Interview tip # 2: Leave your expectations at the door
A fundamental error before conducting an interview is the expectation that the answers you want and need will just happen. Trouble is, often this is not the case. While some people are natural communicators, many are uncomfortable with the interview process and it can be like pulling teeth.
Interview tip #3: Preparation is the key
Remember, an interview is an act of coaxing and, if your questions are researched and well put, there will be less possibility of being answered with “yes” or “no” or “good” or “bad” or other unsatisfactory monosyllables. You want explanation, expansion and that old favourite: engagement. What’s more, preparation gives you the option to pursue new avenues if other avenues stall.
It doesn’t take long to do a little research. Every time. Not only should it help you to better understand your subject and craft better questions, the interview will be more interesting and more fun for all concerned. From my experience, the answers will also flow more readily and the content you ultimately create will be deeper and more compelling.
Finally, no matter who you are interviewing, your preparation shows professionalism and respect, both of which inform reputation.
Written by Michael Jacobson, Editorial Director, Very Media.
At Very Media we believe that effective communication is all about the story. And it’s crucial to have a skilled storyteller. With our expertise, we can work with you to shape and share ‘your story’ no matter the scale of your project or the platform you choose.