An Important Interviewing Tip Most Hosts Miss
And a few others that can help you.
Late night TV shows like to prepare their interviews in advance. By that I mean a producer will call the guest beforehand to work out what the guest will talk about, and what questions the host will ask. They do this for a few reasons. It will help avoid awkwardness and dead air. It will allow producers to pick the most interesting stories about you. And it will allow the host’s writing team to come up with jokes and responses that a good host will make appear spontaneous.
But you don’t have a writing team. You’re unable to talk to the guest in advance. And you think you can edit out the awkwardness.
So how are you supposed to get a good interview without writers and producers?
We’ll start with the stupidly obvious things. Do research on your guest. Find out as much as you can. As you go through the information, questions will appear. You may find things you want to know in more detail.
Next, write out a list of questions. Try for as many as you can, because they won’t all be gems. When you’re done, go though the list and pick out the 4 or 5 best ones, the ones that could lead to an answer you find fascinating. These are the ones you’ll want for the interview.
Some hosts don’t like to think of questions in advance, they feel it kills the spontaneity, and they think they excel at “winging it.” All I can say is you better have a track record of great interviews to feel this way. In my experience, if you wing it, you will be doing a lot of editing, you’ll have a lot of dead spots, and you’ll be hearing a lot of “umms” while you desperately think of something to say.
Having a list of questions makes your interviews stronger. If you hit a dead spot, just move on to the next question.
Be aware, many guests, especially celebrities, hear the same questions over and over. A lot of stars hate press junkets, because it’s a full day of endlessly repeating questions.
Some celebrities have fun with it, either by trying to see how many different ways they can say the same thing, or by giving a variety of wild answers to different journalists asking the same questions. But most established stars could do without the process.
How do you avoid falling into this trap? Avoid questions with yes or no answers, or that have a specific answer. Try to ask open ended questions, where your guest has to give an explanation.
Try to get them to tell stories.
And this leads me to the most important thing you can do in an interview.
Yes, I advised you to have a set of questions prepared, but be willing to forget them if a guest says something you weren’t expecting. Go down that alternate path.
Here’s an extreme example of what not to do. Say you ask an actor how they prepare for a day on the set. This is their response, “I do some exercise, smoke a little crack, have some breakfast, then a car picks me up and I go over my lines for the day.”
A bad interviewer moves on to the next question on their list, maybe “How did you like working with so and so?”
A good interviewer throws their next question away and goes “Wait, did you say you smoke crack to start your day?! How does that help? How long have you been doing that? Has it ever led to a bad experience on the set?”
Great interviewers listen to the answers, and respond to what they hear.
Now go make a great show.
I am a 30-year veteran of radio and other media, with over a dozen years broadcasting morning shows. I’ve worked all across the country, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. My goal is to share the soft skills needed to be successful in podcasting and broadcasting. If you want to be notified when I post, click here.
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