Step one, find someone interesting and convince them to speak. “You get to a point in this process where you start to see information repeated,” Marchese says. “That’s a good sign you’ve done as much research as will be fruitful.” Put your subject at ease Regardless of whether your subject is well-known or not, the person answering questions is probably nervous. From that point on, it was like talking to an old friend.” If you’re interviewing someone you already know, such as an executive at your company, assume they have little experience speaking on the record. “Things might go in a different direction from my planned questions, but if I’ve memorized what it is I want to ask, I know I won’t clam up or run out of things to ask.” If you don’t think you can sustain a conversation while taking down notes of everything being said, turn to technology for help. I’d rather not take notes while the subject is talking, as I don’t want to miss anything,” Callahan said. Even if you ask the right questions, the order you ask them can derail a good conversation. Once you’ve built more of a rapport, then it’s easier to ask the higher stake ones.” Edit what you can Once you’ve done research and conducted the interview, remember that the hardest part is still to come: turning a long and possibly meandering conversation into something people want to read. “You don’t want a transcript,” Wheaton said. “I always edit down my questions.
When I started working as a writer and editor, I thought Q&As were easy. Step one, find someone interesting and convince them to speak. Step two, speak to them. Step three, write it up. Simple.
My first interview, with a United Nations diplomat for a Swiss lifestyle magazine, proved me wrong. After a recording equipment malfunction, I was so flustered I didn’t push him to elaborate on any of his points. When I sat down to write it up, all I had was a bunch of platitudes. I’ve never included the final piece, which ended up reading like a press release, in my writing portfolio.
Conducting interviews gets easier with practice, though. Since that first disaster, I’ve been lucky enough to improve my skills on everyone from one of Google’s first employees to Elon Musk’s less well-known but equally accomplished brother. But for marketers who don’t have time to learn the hard way, there are a few tips for pulling off the perfect interview.
Do more homework
“My only true advice for anyone carrying out an interview is to embrace the Boy Scout’s motto: be prepared,” freelance writer Lawrence Grobel told me over email. This philosophy helped him land the famously private Marlon Brando for a set of interviews with Playboy Magazine in 1978. “If someone is reclusive or unresponsive, the more you show you’re prepared, the better your chances of getting them to open up,” he said.
Being prepared doesn’t mean scanning a Wikipedia page a few minutes before the interview. “You can’t make yourself an expert on everything, but you can try,” journalist David Marchese explained. Readers have shared his Quincy Jones interview for Vulture 600,000 times on Facebook since it was published in February. “First, I immerse myself in the subject … Second, I read as deeply and as widely around the subject as possible.”
Even lower-profile subjects will have some sort of online presence—perhaps a presentation they’ve uploaded to YouTube or an article they’ve written. How do you know when you’ve done enough research? “You get to a point in this process where you start to see information repeated,” Marchese says. “That’s a good sign you’ve done as much research as will be fruitful.”
Put your subject at ease
Regardless of whether your subject is well-known or not, the person answering questions is probably nervous. If you want them to open up, you have to put them at ease.
Start by getting your own nerves under control. “People mirror the interviewers’ behavior,” Marchese said. “If you’re nervous and uptight, there’s a good chance the other person will feel less comfortable. If you’re relaxed, open, upbeat and curious, the person you’re talking to will mirror that.”
Another way of making your subject comfortable is to share something relatable about yourself. “I always try to find a common bond with the person I’m interviewing,” Yesha Callahan, deputy managing editor for the Root, told me. She recently applied the technique in an interview…