Why We Interview
There’s nothing quite like a lively discussion with people you love. Whether it’s an unexpected conversation on your back porch, on a long flight, or in the middle of the grocery store, a fun interaction can brighten your outlook on life and inspire the best in you. Interviews bottle that magic for an audience.
While it’s common and expected to feel some pressure and maybe a little performance anxiety before an interview, it’s important to remember that an interview is simply a conversation.
Conversations are master classes in how to communicate effectively with others and tell memorable stories. It’s a set of skills that only becomes more central to your success as you grow and advance in any field.
Because we do it so often, it’s rare we reflect on what makes a conversation or an interview great. It’s like noticing the presence of the air we breathe — it takes a little reminder and concerted effort.
Here, we’ll break down the responsibilities of a great host, how to be an amazing guest, and the questions you might encounter along the way.
Things To Notice About a Great Interviewer
1. A great interviewer goes out of their way to be a gracious, warm, and welcoming host.
This means going out of their way to be at ease and create comfort, to the best of their ability. This is typically achieved by matching the mood, energy, language, and body language of their guest. It’s also demonstrated by building and shaping the conversation in difficulty and complexity over time, creating a predictable cadence and pace for the guest. A great interviewer avoids jumping in too quickly, appearing disinterested or bored, and missing opportunities to delve into important topics.
2. A great interviewer holds themselves accountable for the outcome of the interview.
This means the host must show up with bravery and courage to seek out and discover the truth and the most meaningful parts of their guests stories. The host must be present and witness the smallest of details and the slightest of tones in order to uncover possibilities. The interviewer must practice an intense presence or committed witness, in order to uncover the empathy and knowledge their audience seeks.
3. A great interviewer advocates for their audience, and practices ego suspension.
This means the host often lets go of their need to share and reply, unless they’re quite certain it will improve the message of the interview. A committed host will often keep the focus on their guest, and if they share more, it is typically an invitation to meet them on another level or topic. A host is willing and comfortable putting the spotlight onto another, and makes sure their guest is able to put their best truth forward.
How To Be a Great Guest
1. A great guest shows up for themselves, for their host, and their audience.
There’s nothing worse than paying attention to people who don’t care about your attention. A great guest understands that others’ attention is a privilege and a gift — and they don’t waste it. A great guest is often thoughtful and prepared. They’ve experienced, reflected, and have an important story or message to share. They show up ready and willing to do anything and everything they do best.
In order to show up, be sure to turn off notifications on your cell phone and laptop:
- Macbook: Apple Icon > System Preferences > Notifications
- iPhone: Settings > Airplane Mode or Settings > Notifications
2. A great guest isn’t afraid. Don’t be afraid to go in further depth, to veer in a fresh, improvisational direction, or to create silence.
Sometimes, great interviews can be a bit like rollercoasters. Don’t be afraid to ride the waves of the conversation and see where you end up together. Trust that your host will rise or descend to meet you wherever you are on the ride.
3. A great guest has a high level of honesty and integrity.
There’s also nothing worse than being sold something you don’t believe or you don’t want to buy. A great guest understands that trust is earned, and that sales is just the transfer of genuine enthusiasm. A great guest isn’t manufacturing anything fake for the audience, they’re showing up in their truth and sharing their authentic lived experiences.
How To Detect A Great Question
1. Great questions are often specific, but broad questions set a flow and develop engagement. Notice the difference.
- What’s your favorite book? vs. What book have you gifted most to other people?
- What makes you happy? vs. What activities help you most feel relieved after a long, hard day at work?
Great interviews are created at the intersection of great questions and right timing. A great interview is a complex art that builds and morphs over time.
A great question sits at the right placement or order in a larger set, and serves as a layout for the rest of the interview terrain to explore.
A great question opens a tapestry of topics and experiences, both specific and broad.
2. A great question is often preceded or contextualized with a personal example or anecdote. This is a cue for a difficult or vulnerable question.
The best way to receive is to give first. If you’re looking for someone to match your level, show them what you mean and what you expect first.
When asking about pet peeves, Tim Ferriss likes to share one of his deepest and darkest pet peeves to kick things off.
As a result, he was able to learn that Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, likes to disassemble and rearrange sandwiches so all the squares are equal.
These deeply personal moments create empathy, trust, and surprise with your audience and make interviews unique and meaningful.
3. Avoid informational questions the audience can answer with Google, especially simple yes or no questions.
This is pretty straightforward. You get the point.
Resources and References:
- How to Ask Questions Better with Tim Ferriss video
- How to Conduct a Good Interview with Katie Couric video
- 6 Powerful Communication Tricks by Buffer blog
- How to Talk to People, According to Terry Gross NYT article
- Oprah, Anderson Cooper, & Howard Stern: 6 Critical Interview Skill article
- 10 Ways to Interview like Oprah article