Critical Interviewing Tips

Critical Interviewing Tips

There are lots of interviewing tips out there but these three, if you don't employ these specific three, you will never be known as a good interviewer because you never will be a good interviewer.

1. Learn To Shut Up

Nobody tunes into an interview to hear the interviewer. Your job is to ask questions, guide the conversation, and be charmingly absent for 99.9% of the interview.

Two mistakes that rookie interviewers make are, interjections and spotlight stealing.


This is when the guest is answering a question and as they are answering they say something that brings something to your mind and so you interrupt them and interject a thought, or worse another question, into the middle of their answer.

This does two things. First, it interrupts the listener's enjoyment of your guest giving what was probably a fantastic answer to a fantastic question. Secondly, it forever alters their train of thought and no one will ever know their full answer to the original question.

Spotlight Stealing

This is when the guest says they've done something and the interviewer says something to the effect of "Oh, that happened to me too! It was when I was 10 and at my grandmother's house…"

Nobody cares about you, you're not the draw, the guest is the draw. Let the guest speak, uninterrupted, and if you think of something as they're speaking, write it down on the legal pad you should be sitting with, with the pencil you ought to be holding.

Let them finish. Take a breath. Look at your notes. Ask another question. Your podcast isn't live and silences are easily cut out in post.

2. Draw Out The Hard Stuff

People who sit for interviews have likely sat for them before and so they have answered many of the superficial questions you will ask at the outset of the conversation. Go three levels deep on every question you ask – even if you won't ultimately use the content (maybe it wont be good) in the finished product.

I once had an interview with a man in his 30's whose father had died tragically and in front of him. I knew this was emotional for him and I knew that no small amount of sincere empathy would be required of me if I were going to get him to tell me more about this – more than he had told others.

I pushed.

The result was an answer that was hard to say, hard to hear, and hard to share, but in the end was one which delivered the full gravity of that moment in his life to all those who could never imagine such a thing. And Fred, that was my guest's name, was happy that the interview provided that sort of opportunity – the chance to set the record straight or to finally talk about things he'd been putting off.

Always offer your guest an out – preface the question with something like "I understand that this question may be too personal, and if that's the case we'll move on and I won't include that part in the final interview, but…" and then ask.

As a general rule: If it makes you feel uncomfortable to ask it, and you're debating with yourself as to whether or not you should, you probably should.

Of course, it is always helpful to have a pre-existing rapport with your guest, which brings me to my last interviewing tip.

3. The Pre-Interview Chat

If you're going to sit down with someone for an hour, it's a good idea to sit down with them an hour before that – well before that.

Everyone I've interviewed on the Portland Speaks podcast, I met for coffee (my treat) weeks or months before actually interviewing them. I do this, and I suggest you do it, because it gets the awkwardness out of the way ahead of time. Ask them to tell you their story. Ask where they came from, what it was like growing up, and what they're up to these days. Then share the same of yourself. Ask questions that are unrelated to the interview, become friendly with them, get to know them as individuals as much as you can over coffee and a one-hour chat.

The goal here is to bring down their defenses during the actual interview. Everyone instinctively has their guard up with strangers and that can make honest discussions difficult. If they walk into an interview and they know nothing about you and have no previous experience with you, you have to start breaking that wall down during the interview, and that means shallow and guarded answers to your questions. However, if they've already spent a little bit of time with you, and you share a couple of jokes, and found that you had some things in common, that wall is already going to have a lot of breaks in it, and your questions will likely elicit more informative, interesting, and engrossing answers.

If you can't meet them for Coffee, make part of your interviewing process a 60-minute vetting phone call. If they aren't willing to do that, don't interview them. Even if they're a big name, don't interview them. Why? Because if they're big enough and important enough not to have the time to pre-chat with you, then that means they've already guested on a good number of programs and are probably fairly well known and, if that's the case, you won't be able to provide any unique value to your listeners because you won't be able to ask any questions that haven't already been asked.

It's not enough that the guest is on your show – you want the interview he/she has with you to be an interview that isn't available anywhere else. You want to ask questions no one else asked and you want to make the experience of appearing on YOUR show stand out in THEIR minds because that will make them far more likely to share an promote the episode once it releases.

4. Bonus: Followup Thrice

Once the interview is over, schedule an email for the next morning thanking the guest for their time and re-enforcing that you felt the conversation will provide a lot of value to listeners.

Then two days before the release of the episode reach out again with a link to preview the episode. In this email also provide your cover art for the episode and a 60-second audiogram of the best part of the interview. Encourage them to share both when the episode goes live.

The day of release send an email informing them of the release. Include a link for sharing and include, again, the audiogram and the coverart. Thank them once more, let them know that if they have any questions they can reach out to you directly, and wish them well.

Hope all this was helpful. Now go out there and be a great interviewer!