How to Conduct a Media Interview Like a Pro

Interviewing experts in your field of interest is a great way to draw readers to your blog or web site. The Public Speaker has 10 savvy tips to help you conduct an interview like a pro. This is your media training 101.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #198

How to Conduct a Media Interview Like a Pro

by Lisa. B. Marshall

I recently received this message from a listener of The Public Speaker podcast:

“Hi Lisa, I need advice on conducting interviews. I’ve recently started a blog and will be interviewing experts for articles. In addition, I’m thinking I’d like to use the interviews as a podcasts or maybe as bonus audio content for some of my online products. I have zero experience conducting media interviews and I need some help. What’s your advice?”

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As blogging and podcasting becomes more popular, interview skills are becoming important to people who never thought they would need them. Interviewing experts in your field of interest is a great way to draw readers to your site. Fortunately, you don’t need a broadcasting degree to conduct a compelling interview. A little preparation and practice will make you sound like a professional.

Here are 10 things to remember for any successful interview:

1. Know your goals. Your first step should be setting the goals for your interview. Make a general outline of what you want to discuss and what the end result should be. This will guide your questioning and help your guest know which direction to take. Keep it flexible enough to allow for surprising twists and turns. Be prepared to get back to your goals if you veer too far off course.

2. Prepare for the interview. Read as much background information as you can on your guest. Listen to previous interviews they’ve given. Brush up on the topic areas and be aware of any controversies or hot topics in your guest’s field of expertise. Read their latest book. Research the product they’re plugging. The additional research will help you ask the questions that haven’t been asked before. That’s your sizzle! It’s what will set you apart from other interviewers and gain the respect of the interviewee.

3. Prepare your guest. Describe your audience and what you hope to deliver to them. Describe the types of questions you’ll be asking, but don’t give them a full list or you’ll lose spontaneity. Briefly explain the logistics ahead of time, such as the length, the format of your article or your podcast and the pace you want to keep. You’ll also want to be clear about how and when you will plug their product and how they can promote themselves and their products and services.

4. Make your guests comfortable. Conduct the interview in their territory, if possible. Let them pick the location. If they’ll be coming to your venue, set up a relaxed environment with a comfortable chair or small table, and a glass of water. Introduce them to the other people that may also be assisting with the production. If it’s a phone interview, talk to them a little beforehand to help them relax.

5.  Start with a connection. The first question asked should be an ice breaker. How did you get started? Where did you grow up? Why do you do what you do? The idea is to give the person permission to brag about their work or themselves and connect with your audience. If the topic is personally sensitive, you'll need to share something first. Reciprocity will kick in and the interviewee will feel compelled to reciprocate with their story.

6.  Don’t interrogate your guest. Your interview should be a two-way conversation. After you ask a question, listen and then respond. A good interview is a mix of prepared and naturally curious questions. By listening carefully to what is (and isn’t) said, you’ll be able to create insightful, responsive questions. Many interviewers mistakenly believe it’s their job to ask the tough questions that make their guests squirm. A tough interview may get you 15 minutes of fame, but it won’t help you get the guests you want in the future.

7. Ask open-ended questions. Lead your guest into storytelling by asking "when" and "how," rather than questions that require a simple yes or no. For example: Tell me what happened when…? Tell me about a time when…? Why did you…? How did that make you feel? These open-ended questions will lead to interesting responses. Your guest will express more emotion if they’re in charge of the story.

8. Use the power of the pause. After someone has answered your question, pause intentionally. Wait to see if they add something more. This may be the time you get the real gem—after they've delivered their prepared canned answer and they feel like they need to fill dead air. Sometimes silence makes people uneasy so they jump to fill it.

9. Ask a fun, oddball question that provides insight into their personality. Try something like “Which children's literature character do you most identify with and why?” or "What’s playing on your iPod right now?”

10. Keep it short. Don’t go longer than 30 minutes, but aim for 15. If you’re running out of time, don’t ask a tough question or start a new topic. You don’t want to sound rushed. If you go over 30 minutes, your audience will most likely tune out.

The more interviews you conduct, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Try to create an enjoyable experience for you, your guests, and your audience. You’ll soon find your style, and earn respect as a notable interviewer. This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker.  Passionate about communication; your success is my business. Join my newsletter and get a free bonus!

Do you struggle with difficult conversations? Do you know how to deliver feedback so that it doesn’t damage your relationships? Do you know how to effectively persuade and influence others? Learn this and more in my book Smart Talk, referred by the media to “the owner’s manual for your mouth!” Visit www.smarttalksuccess.com to get your personally signed copy. 

Interview image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.