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How Better Source Interviews Lead to More Engaging Content

Ask a question, get an answer.

Ask the following question; get the following answer.

Repeat until finished.

This is the basic formula of any interview.

But to succeed in an interview, it is not enough to ask questions and get answers from the interviewee.

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

As a journalist, editor, and content marketer, I’ve interviewed thousands of people, from random people on the street doing a walk-and-talk story to famous people sitting on stage in front of an audience. The way I approached interviews in the early days is different than the way I do them today.

To help you shorten the learning curve, here are some of the tips I learned:

Know the goal

Content marketers interview all types of people for all kinds of reasons. You want to gain knowledge from a subject matter expert. You need to write a thought leadership article for a leader. You want to learn more about customer experiences.

This is the basis of your maintenance strategy.

But you also need to know how the interview will be used. Will you take notes or get a transcript and write 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 conduct the interview live in front of an audience (virtual or in person)? Or will you use the interview for multiple tactics?

Knowing how the interview will be used helps you stay on track to get what you need from the interview.

Prepare for the interview

You must search for both the topic and the personThe amount of research you do depends on your level of knowledge, but never wing it.

Much has been written about research topics, but little has been written about researching the interviewee. Yet both aspects are essential to a successful interview.

I look at what the person has said or written. It may be on the same topic as the interview or something else, but it is all informative. It gives me a better understanding of what they know, how they think, and how they communicate their thoughts. This not only helps inform the interview, but also allows me to prepare for how they might answer those questions.

For example, if someone habitually answers yes or no questions or writes ridiculously short sentences and paragraphs, I better be prepared to ask follow-up questions to extract more information. If someone writes volumes on a topic or answers a question at length, I better be prepared to interrupt and change the conversation if they stray from the original topic.

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

Wear the interviewee’s shoes

Building a connection—even a temporary one—with the interviewee goes a long way in delivering quality content.

Think about it. This person is trusting you, someone they don’t know well or at all, to tell their story or share their ideas with an audience.

Some people are comfortable with this idea. Others are hesitant, fearing the image they might give or that the information they share will be distorted (intentionally or not).

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

Next, at the beginning or during the pre-interview, tell them a little about yourself. Share something that interests you about the topic or how you met the person. Talk about where you live or even the weather. Maybe give them an explanation of your role or a brief overview of your relevant experience. You don’t need to verbalize your resume, but incorporating elements of your life helps build rapport and establish credibility.

Before the interview, some candidates ask to see the questions. I totally get it. They want to be prepared and don’t want to be faced with a question that surprises or upsets them. But I don’t send a list of all the expected questions. Instead, I send a summary of what is expected of the interview and some of the questions. I explain that I can’t send a long list of questions because I often let the interviewee’s answers trigger the next questions.

Do the interview

In school, I would write down my questions and leave room for answers. I quickly learned that I never left enough room for answers. I also learned that the formal question-and-answer style made for stilted, mundane interviews.

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

Find the style that works best for you; just make sure it makes you feel prepared and leaves some wiggle room.

Too many interviewers stick to their planned questions. They only listen to the interviewee wrap up their answer so they can move on to the next question. They don’t really hear what the interviewee is saying. They miss the opportunity to ask a useful follow-up question or invite the interviewee to continue on that path.

If you listen carefully, you can also sense when the other person is straying from the topic or getting too deep into it. This will help you 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, stopping nodding in agreement, or shuffling your cards.

If they don’t get the message, speak up to move the conversation forward. Say something like, “That’s really interesting. I realize we could go on much longer on this topic, but I want to respect your time, so let me ask another question.” If the interview is live, say something like, “That’s great information. I just wish we had all afternoon to talk about it more. But since we don’t, I’m going to ask you this question…”

As you conclude the interview, ask yourself questions like, “What didn’t I ask that you wish I had?” or “What else should our audience know about this?”

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

Repeat, repeat, repeat

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

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

Want more content marketing tips, ideas, and examples? Subscribe to the daily or weekly CMI emails.


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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