8 Interview Tips for Content and PR

  • Categories:

    Content Marketing, Public Relations

  • Date:

    February 25, 2020

8 Interview Tips for Content and PR



Content Marketing, Public Relations

The age of content has elevated storytelling — and great interview skills are crucial for telling great stories. The Content Marketing Institute recognizes this fundamental truth, and I was thrilled to be the featured guest on their recent Twitter chat exploring the art of interviewing. Whether you frequently interview subject matter experts or sit on the opposite side of the figurative table, I hope you’ll find these tips helpful in gathering valuable material for your brand or strengthening your position as a trusted authority.

1. Research, research, research.

Great research is gold. That’s why doing your homework is critical — whether the topic is technical or inspirational, new or familiar.

If you’re conducting the interview, make sure you know enough about your topic and expert to ask compelling questions, both planned and spur of the moment.

If you’re the expert, spend some time researching the brand, publication or reporter, so you can get a feel for the types of content they share and how they position it.

2. Approach the interview as if you’re building an outline for the story you want to tell.

When I prepare to interview someone, I structure my questions like a good, old-fashioned story outline. Think exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. (Yes, I majored in English.) I think about my objective and target audience and the channels I’ll use to share the story, and I write questions that tree up to all of those considerations.

3. Steer clear of group interviews in most cases.

I say “most cases” because this can change depending on a few factors, such as the interview format (e.g., by phone or in person) and even whether the experts are a mix of female and male voices. For example, I listen to a BBC history podcast that frequently features multiple guests in one segment. Just be aware that even two voices could more than double the work needed to produce a concise, effective finished product.

    4. Pick a quiet location.

    There are a few exceptions to this rule — e.g., a podcast recorded live or a “man on the street” style interview where background noise adds an interesting layer. But for the most part, you should aim for a quiet, private location without peripheral noise or outside distractions.

    5. Knock out a few housekeeping items first.

    Confirm expert names and titles (including correct spelling). Make sure everyone understands how material can and will be used. Do photos or other assets need to be collected? If applicable, outline next steps and where/when the story will appear.

    6. Treat it like what it is — a conversation.

    We’re all pressed for time, but we’re still human, and humans are built to connect on a personal level. When possible, I like to start interviews by asking a few unrelated questions. How’s your day treating you? What city do you call home? Did you have your coffee yet? Whatever suits the mood and the situation.

    Even after we dive in, I like to keep it loose. Find a natural flow and let it guide you.

    This means being willing to go off the script or ask prepped questions out of order — or even adding questions depending on where the discussion takes you:

    • What happened next?
    • How did that make you feel?
    • I’m curious about that … can you tell me more?

    Also, allow time to come up with good answers. Make space to think and breathe. Just don’t let the silence drag.

    Lastly, smile. Even if you’re talking on the phone, a little smile goes a long way toward creating a sense of comfort and congeniality.

    7. Keep a record.

    If you’re running the interview, take notes and/or record the audio (remember to ask if you have permission to record). Notetaking protects you from technology mishaps and helps your brain absorb the most salient points (hey, it’s science!). I rarely record interviews but always take notes — and I type much faster than I write (cue bad memories of sideline interviews with a pencil and legal pad in my days as a sports stringer).

    Video may be the lone exception: If I’m interviewing someone on camera, I keep eyes on them at all times and let the camera do its job.

    8. Make your last question count.

    True story: I’ve unearthed some of the best, most out-of-nowhere stories simply by asking, “Do you have anything to add?” Whether you’re asking the questions or answering them, you’ll be amazed by what you can do with the last five minutes of a 60-minute interview.

    Great research is gold … but great interviews are priceless. Have questions or other tips I left off this list? Think we can help your brand capture great stories? Email me.

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