Getting the Most from Interviewing Experts – 3 Simple Tips

You’re going to need a mini notebook, metal water bottle, and a curious habit of breaking your own best plans.

Whether you’re interviewing global thought leaders for a national audience or your own peers for more informed content marketing, your interviewing habits are crucial to finding the knowledge and interest needed to create engaging content.

Over my [too many] years in radio broadcasting, TV journalism, and research for content marketing, I’ve picked up a few favorite tips from fellow-pros for getting the most from your expert interviews while building a great experience for everyone.

Take Minimal Notes. Record Every Word.

Nothing breaks the flow of an interview quite like your staring at a notepad, loud clacking at the keyboard, or that spectacular “I’m a touch typist, but also I’m trying to remember where the ‘P’ key is” blank stare.

Record the audio of your conversation so that you can be present. Use a small notepad to jot only the notes you’ll need to keep the conversation moving.

Why the small pad? It encourages brevity while still ‘filling up the page’ nicely compared to a standard notepad. Further, it avoids you erecting ‘the thin gray wall’ of your Macbook between you and your expert.

It's a conversation, not a game of Battleship. Ditch the laptop when interviewing experts. Click To Tweet

Use a digital audio recorder in the interview so that you can return to the recording later to capture your more detailed notes and items requiring follow-up. While your smartphone has about 3 million apps for this, a cheap digital audio recorder doesn’t run the risk of texts, emails, calls and other distractions while providing a higher quality, easier to hear audio file for you.

Let the subject know you’re recording so that you can focus on the conversation, not note taking. In over a decade, I’ve had precisely one subject decline to be recorded for note taking. That person turned out to be a whack-a-doodle with very little to contribute.

Sip Silence Like a Voss.

Silence sucks. It’s awkward when unexpected in an interview setting, and the desire to talk over it seems to be hardcoded into the DNA of every human being.

That means you. That means your expert. And that’s where your bottle of water comes in.

'Sip Through the Silence' and Other Tips for Better Expert Interviews Click To Tweet

For newer interviewers, this little mechanism will help fight your urge to reframe a question you’ve just asked because the expert seems to be thinking about it too hard. Let them think, sip your water, the answer is coming.

For experienced interviewers, this can be used to intentionally build a little of that awkward tension that begs to be filled at the tail of a short or incomplete answer. This is shockingly effective for enticing your expert to go into further with their answer without overt prodding.

It’s a non-verbal ‘go on…’ that’s helped me generals to engineers to sales professionals.

  • Use a small water bottle so that it does not interfere with your eye contact and break your engagement in the conversation.
  • Use an opaque bottle like a S’well or H2Go so that you needn’t over-hydrate yourself on silence sips. Also, you know, the environment.
  • Straws are awkward for everybody in all circumstances no exceptions period.

Pre-Write the Narrative. Pray to Change It.

As a member of the audience, you become most engaged when the content you’re reading, hearing or watching defies your expectations with a surprising twist or new angle.

As a content creator on a deadline with an objective, it’s easy to focus so much on the content you’ve come to create that you forget the story you’d prefer.

Look for the twist, lean into it, and be happy you've ruined your outline. Click To Tweet

Finding the twist relies on an intensive understanding of the subject on your part to recognize when a small detail offers a new vantage. Pre-writing your expected angle will help tremendously, but know from the start that your goal is to change it.

The twist doesn’t have to be an M Knight Shamalan mind bender. In fact, the best ones are just amplifications of little things you pick up during the interview.

Finding the twist relies on an intensive understanding of the subject on your part to recognize when a small detail offers a new vantage. You can’t really plan it, but you can know a few to look for.

I had an otherwise dull local business piece on hat store completely change direction when I learned an employee was also a current a psychology student. He had some interesting insight into what the people put on their head says about what was in their head.

“On their head” and “in their head” was his wording, and the discovery of his major came up in my ‘let’s test the lapel microphone’ small talk. I’ll never forget Brad from Baltimore’s Hats in the Belfry.

Finding the twist relies on an intensive understanding of the subject on your part in order to recognize when a small detail offers a new vantage. You can’t really plan it, but here are a few twists to be on the lookout for:

  • Ask the expert to explain the topic in terms of a hobby or passion mentioned in pre-interview small talk. (Or that photo you spy on their desk.)
  • Ask the expert what inspired the current approach or product.
  • Ask the expert about a time a previous approach or version of a product failed.

Interviewing is hard work, but a few simple habits can help you better prepare and be better present in your conversations with experts.

Grab your mini-notebook, audio recorder, water bottle and an outline you hope to throw away, and go help your expert fall in love with their craft all over again.