How Better Source Interviews Lead To More Engaging Content

How Better Source Interviews Lead To More Engaging Content

Ask a question; get an answer.

Ask the next question; get the next answer.

Repeat until done.

That’s the basic formula of any interview.

But making an interview great requires more than you posing questions and the interviewee answering them.

A great interview incorporates a thoughtful approach that makes the subject comfortable enough to share their thoughts and takes them on a journey that may lead to some surprising answers (for both interviewer and interviewee).

As a reporter, editor, and content marketer, I’ve interviewed thousands of people, ranging from the random person on their street for a walk-and-talk feature to the well-known person sitting on stage in front of an audience. How I approached interviews early on differs from how I do it now.

 To help you shorten the learning curve, here are some of the tricks I’ve learned:

Know the purpose

Content marketers interview all types of people for all sorts of reasons. You want to gain knowledge from a subject matter expert. You need to ghostwrite a thought leadership piece for an executive. You wish to learn about customers’ experiences.

That’s the baseline for your interview strategy.

But you also need to know how the interview will be used. Will you take notes or get a transcription and craft a written article? Will you post audio clips on social media or your brand’s website? Will you publish a video on YouTube? Will you do the interview live in front of the audience (virtual or in person)? Or will you use the interview for multiple tactics?

Knowing how the interview will be used lets you follow the right path, so you get what you need from the interview.

Prepare for the interview

You must research both the topic and the person. How much research you do depends on your knowledge level, but never wing it.

Lots has been written about researching topics, but less on researching the interviewee. But both are critical to a successful interview.

I look at what the person’s said or written. It might be about the same topic as the interview, or it might be about something else, but it’s all informative. It gives me a better understanding of what they know, how they think, and how they communicate those thoughts. It not only helps inform the questioning, but it lets me prepare for how they might respond to those questions.

For example, if someone typically gives yes-no answers or writes absurdly short sentences and paragraphs, I better be prepared with follow-up questions to pull more information from them. If someone writes tomes about a topic or goes on and on in answering a question, I better be prepared to interrupt and shift the conversation if they stray from the original topic.

If you’re doing a live interview, such as a livestream or in-person event, do a pre-interview with the subject whenever possible. Use a video-conferencing tool so you’re face to face. During the 15- to 20-minute call, ask a few of the planned questions and develop a rapport with the subject.

Wear the interviewee’s shoes

Building a bond — albeit temporary — with the interview subject goes a long way in delivering great content.

Think about it. This person is placing their trust in you, whom they don’t know well if at all, to tell their story or share their insights with an audience in public.

Some people are comfortable with that. Others are hesitant, worried about how they may come across or that the information they share may be misrepresented (unintentionally or intentionally).

In your early correspondence with the subject, include a short bio, LinkedIn profile, and any other relevant links about you and your work. That gives the interviewee an easy option to learn even more about you.

Then, in the beginning or during the pre-interview, talk a little bit about you. Share something that interests you about the topic or how you learned about the person. Heck, talk about where you live or even the weather. Maybe give them an explanation of your role or a brief background on your relevant experience. You don’t need to verbalize your resume, but weaving in bits of your life helps develop a rapport and establish some credibility.

Before the interview, some subjects ask to see the questions. I totally get it. They want to be prepared and don’t want to get hit with a question that surprises or upsets them. But I don’t send a list of all the planned questions. Instead, I send a synopsis of what’s expected in the interview and a few of the questions. I explain that I can’t send a lengthy list of questions because I often let the interviewee’s answers prompt the next questions.

Do the interview

In my school days, I would write down my questions and leave space for the answers. I quickly learned that I never left enough space for the answers. I also learned that the formal Q-and-A style led to stilted, mundane interviews.

Now, I write down a few must-address points or questions to create a cohesive narrative. This helps me craft the story in front of a live audience and makes for a shorter post-interview process to figure out what I should include in the content.

Find a style that works best for you; just make sure it allows you to feel prepared and leaves room for flexibility.

Too many interviewers stick to their planned questions. They listen only for the interviewee to conclude the answer so they can move onto the next question. They don’t really hear what the person says. They miss the opportunity to ask a valuable follow-up question or invite the interviewee to go further down that path.

If you listen well, you can also sense when the interviewee is going off track or down too deep a hole about the subject. You can bring the conversation back to the topic at hand. First, use nonverbal cues, such as opening your mouth as if you’re about to speak, stop nodding in agreement, or shuffling your note cards.

If they don’t pick up on the cue, speak up to pivot the conversation. Say something like, “That’s so interesting. I realize we could go much longer on that, but I want to respect your time, so let me ask a different question.” If the interview is live, say something like, “That’s great information. I only wish we had all afternoon to talk more about it. But since we don’t, I’ll ask you this …”

As you conclude the interview, ask a form of these questions: “What haven’t I asked that you wished I did?” or “What else should our audience know about this?”

I find these closing answers often elicit responses that become the key quote or crux of the resulting content asset.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

With interviews, you never know what you’ll get — that’s both the fun and challenging part of talking with subject matter experts, executives, customers, etc. But you do know every interview is an opportunity to refine your process. You’ll be able to assess the subject’s style more quickly. You can discover what types of questions elicit the better responses. You can realize how much research you really need to do.

Fortunately, improving your interview style doesn’t require practice, practice, and more practice. It requires interview, interview, and more interviews — and all the time you’re creating publishable content.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute


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