Interviews are vital for helping businesses scale content, grow their network, and boost company contributions. However, unless you’re in a field that traditionally requires interviewing, most people haven’t been taught how to conduct interviews. Here are the 10 essential do's and don'ts of conducting interviews that will help you refine your interviewing skills and create better content all around.
How to Conduct a Good Content Interview
1. Do have a goal for the interview; Don't have tunnel vision
Before you set up for an interview, you need to know what kind of content you intend to create. Determine if it will be a podcast episode, blog, webinar, or some other form of content. Doing your homework will help you frame your questions and format the interview to match the flow of the end product.
On the flip side, don't become hyper-focused on creating a piece of content that can only work for a single medium. Instead, follow an outline for the interview while still looking for opportunities to repurpose or create branching content.
2. Do make your interviewee feel comfortable; Don't make it feel like an interrogation
If your interviewee isn't familiar with being interviewed, they might feel nervous or self-conscious answering questions in front of a camera or even on a casual video call. If this is the case, it’s your job as the interviewer to help them feel at ease.
Before you start recording, let them know that there's no pressure to answer perfectly and that there are no wrong answers. Engaging in some small talk on- or off-camera can also help them warm up. Ask the guest how their day has been, what they had for breakfast, or if they have plans for the weekend. Casual small talk can ease their nerves.
You should also always send your interviewee the questions ahead of time so they're not surprised or left scrambling for an answer. An interview should be a collaborative environment.
Suggested Article: 5 Reasons Interviews Create Better Content
3. Do your pre-interview homework; Don't come unprepared
Before you interview someone, take the time to learn about them. Start with primary research like their name, where they work, their job, and their area of expertise and industry. Information like this should be easy to find online via sources like LinkedIn and their website.
This research will ultimately help you understand who they are, ask better questions, and steer the conversation towards more exciting topics. You can pull good information with questions like, "In January, you posted an article about [topic], and now you're working on [a related project]. That's fascinating! Could you tell us more about how that transition happened?"
4. Do have a list of questions prepared; Don't follow the script too strictly
Having a list of questions to work off ensures you get all the information you need for the end content piece. It also gives you a safety net, so if you have trouble coming up with follow-up questions, move to the next question on your list.
You should also always try to put yourself in the audience's shoes. Look for opportunities to ask questions they will want answers to. Ultimately, you are creating content for an audience, and you should work with their interests and needs in mind.
At the end of the day, the interview should still feel like a conversation. So if your discussion leads you to a new angle or you get an opportunity to ask a follow-up, don't be afraid to deviate.
Suggested Article: Conversation: The Content Creation Hack
5. Do give your questions a logical flow; Don't jump into the deep end immediately
When you put together your list of questions, work on laying a good foundation for the interview. First, build the basics by starting with some easy questions your interviewee is used to answering. For example, if you're talking to an engineer, ask for a brief overview of the general subject before diving into the tough questions. Questions like these help engage the audience with approachable content and make the interviewee feel comfortable. Then, once you've primed the conversation, you can ask questions that gradually get more difficult or specific.
6. Do ask open-ended questions; Don't make the interviewee feel cornered
Always try to ask questions that allow your interviewee to expand on their thoughts. A close-ended or yes-or-no question will dead-end. Instead, you want the interviewee to give a comprehensive explanation of their opinions and ideas. When you give someone room to roam with their answers, you are much more likely to uncover insights that you didn’t foresee in the planning stages. It also gives you ample opportunities to ask follow-up questions.
7. Do be present and listen actively; Don't tune out
No one wants to be interviewed by someone who seems uninterested in what you have to say. One way to show that you are genuinely interested in the conversation is to reiterate a critical point that your interviewee has made before moving on to another. Circling back to a previous point can help you organically confirm a thought or lead into the next question. Don't tune out or become hyper-focused on asking the next question.
8. Do go in with an open mind; Don't assume you know the answer
Approach every interview as an opportunity for you to grow and learn something new. Even if it's about niche information, you can use it to become a better interviewer. Be genuinely curious about their answers, and never assume you know an answer whenever you ask a question. The answer might surprise you, and most importantly, no one likes to be interviewed by a know-it-all. In the same vein, avoid asking leading questions that push your interviewee to the answer you want.
9. Do be respectful of their time; Don't go over the allotted time
Be openly appreciative of the interviewee's time and effort to help you. Let your guest know how grateful you are for their time by thanking them at the beginning of the interview and the end; "Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. We appreciate it. This interview will help us and, hopefully, it'll help you."
Back up that appreciation with respect for their time. Try to avoid going over the allotted time. If you need to ask another follow-up question or finish a thought, ask them, "I know we are coming up on the end of our call, is it okay if we take another minute or two to wrap up? Do you have time?" If they don’t, ask if you can email them one or two wrap-up questions. Always be courteous of their time and schedule.
10. Do balance the voices in the room; Don't let someone bulldoze
If you're interviewing with more than one interviewee, you'll need to work on balancing the dynamics, especially if they don't know each other very well. Make sure everyone is heard, and don't let a single person bulldoze or dominate the conversation. Directing questions to one person at a time is a great way to mitigate this issue.
On the flip side, if you plan on co-interviewing, never go over a three-to-one interviewer-to-interviewee ratio. Increasing this number of people asking questions will hamper the flow of conversation and might overwhelm the interviewee.
At the end of the day, content creation and interviewing are just forms of storytelling. If you’re new to either skill or feel intimidated by them, just remember that — as a human — you have the innate abilities in you.
Whether you're interviewing to record a webinar, write a blog, or build buyer personas, it all comes down to practice. By following these steps, you put yourself on the path to conducting great interviews and having fun while doing it.
Looking for more? Check out our on-demand webinar that will teach you how to interview like a content pro.