The Art of Public Interviewing

TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016, Romain Dillet interviewing Henri Seydoux — source:

The complexity of moderating a panel is underestimated. People tend to focus on what speakers say and have an opinion about them depending on what they say.

But moderators have a huge impact on what the speakers say. Think of political candidates on TV. Politicians are expert at saying what they want instead of answering the actual questions. If the moderator is not very challenging and well prepared, they will be overwhelmed rapidly. They won’t be able to generate good, genuine answers. But they can make sure that everything is in place to make it very difficult for the politician to avoid answering while feeling honest and cooperative.

How to become better at asking questions in public interviews? Let’s look at some tips shared by Romain Dillet, journalist at TechCrunch.

1. Preparation is key

“I read everything I can find online about the people I will interview. I look at written articles, video interviews and podcasts. I make sure to keep in mind the most common questions to avoid repeating them to get different answers. I write down what I would like to know and the type of questions that make them comfortable.”

2. Split your interview into different themes

Learn the specific wording of all the important questions by heart for each of them. Make sure that you have have good follow-up questions for each of them. “I aim for anything between 2 to 4 topics, 3 to 5 questions per topic for a typical 20-minute interview. I often skip a topic altogether to focus on the most interesting one for longer.”

3. Start with the easy questions and improvise

Don’t hesitate to jump from one topic to another depending on what they talk about. It’ll make them at ease and create a natural flow. Ask the questions you prepared but don’t hesitate to pick up on something unexpected the speaker said.

4. You should see interviews as story arcs

“Everybody has their own interviewing style. I try to build up trust and then I ask the hard questions.” They’ll either get mad and refuse to answer or they will be comfortable enough that they’ll answer them and it will become super interesting for the audience. After the hard questions, if the speaker didn’t shut you down, they will be relieved with the next questions — those are easier by definition as you already asked the toughest ones. “When it works, it’s amazing.”

5. Grab the answer quickly

“As a moderator, I listen to the beginning of the answer — that’s where the good stuff is. During the last part of the answer I start thinking about the next question.”

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