Celebrity Interview

Reconnect the Experience of Leaders and Experts with People Closest to the Challenge at Hand

Christiaan Verwijs
Jan 25 · 5 min read

Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.

What happens when your Product Owner takes the stage to click through a huge PowerPoint presentation about the product strategy? Or when you’re at a conference and are listening to a scientist talk about their research for an hour? No matter how interesting the topic is, and how well it is presented, your attention is likely to drop off. You may even notice people falling asleep.

The “presentation” is one of the most common interaction patterns in our day-to-day work. We use it to share the results of our work, or our experience, with others. This is so important, that we already learn “presentation skills” while in school. Many classes and workshops exist to make us better presenters, learn how to use our voice, and create dazzling presentations in Powerpoint, Prezi, or Google Slides.

At the same time, most people dread giving presentations and attending them. When it comes to sharing our experiences or learnings with others, maybe talking about them for a long time isn’t the most engaging and unleashing experience.

The purpose of Celebrity Interview

Celebrity Interview” exists to help experts and leaders share their experiences and insights with a group in a profoundly more engaging and interactive way than regular presentations. Instead of having to wait with questions until the end of a presentation — if there’s even time left — Celebrity Interview uses the burning questions on everyone’s mind to structure the conversation.

In all honesty, we’re not huge fans of the name for this structure. Building on our belief that there are no experts (and celebrities) in complex work, we prefer to call it “Fireside interview” or “Experience interview”.

This structure was created by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

Steps to facilitate Celebrity Interview

  • Prepare for Celebrity Interview by creating a stage where the interviewer and the interviewee(s) are clearly visible from anywhere in the room. You can either position the interviewer and interviewee(s) in front of the room or surround them with concentric circles of chairs.
  • Start by introducing the interviewer, the topic, and the person that will be interviewed (2 min).
  • The interviewer kicks off the interview by asking questions that exemplify what the audience can ask later (10–15 min). It is super helpful when the interviewer asks for practical examples and personal stories, instead of theoretical concepts.
  • Invite the audience to generate big questions with 1–2–4-ALL. Give everyone a minute to get their own thinking started in silence (1 min), then pair up with someone else to build on their ideas (2 min) and paired with another pair (4 min). Ask the groups of four to write their questions down on an index card. If you have many groups, you can ask them to limit to one or two questions.
  • The interviewer collects the questions and sifts through them for patterns. For example, similar questions may appear. Or some questions are more humorous and others of a more serious nature. Based on the patterns, the interviewer asks additional questions to the interviewee(s) (10–15 min). It may be tempting to extend the timebox to convey more information. But with the limited attention span of people, less really is more. You can always do multiple Celebrity Interviews throughout the day, interspersed with other engaging activities.
  • The interviewer closes the interview and thanks the audience and the interviewee(s).
Some examples of Celebrity Interviews with Dave West, Ken Schwaber, Keith McCandless, and Daniel Steinhofer. The pictures show the diversity of configurations (standing, sitting, walking) and the seating.

Examples of Celebrity Interviews

  • We’ve used “Celebrity Interview” at the start of change initiatives to give a CEO the opportunity to share their vision.
  • For Scrum Teams, use “Celebrity Interview” to interview the Product Owner about the Sprint Goal for the next Sprint.
  • We’ve used “Celebrity Interviews” to let someone share their experience with Zombie Scrum. In this case, the interviewer was dressed up as a scientist and the interviewee as a zombie.
  • Whenever you have to convey information to a group, use a “Celebrity Interview” to make it more engaging.
  • Use “Celebrity Interview” to let a developer share their learnings and practices with other developers.
  • “Celebrity Interview” can be used virtually by letting small groups of participants write their questions in the chat or in a shared Google Doc. A tool that supports breakout rooms, like Zoom, is incredibly helpful to give each small group their own ‘room’ to generate questions before returning to the main channel with the interviewer and the interviewee(s).
A virtual Celebrity Interview with crowd-sourced questions

Combinations With Other Liberating Structures

One Liberating Structure is nice, but their power and ability to engage groups increases when you create “strings” where different structures are combined. Here are some ideas:

  • When you have a larger group of interviewee(s), you can replace or extend the interview with a UX Fishbowl.
  • Use 25/10 Crowd Sourcing instead of 1–2–4-ALL to generate questions for the interviewee(s).
  • Follow-up with Impromptu Networking or 15% Solutions to digest insights and learnings from the interview.
  • Follow-up with Shift & Share, Open Space Technology, or Critical Uncertainties to dive deeper into insights.
  • When you absolutely need to go through a slide deck of Powerpoint Slides, you can precede the “Celebrity Interview” with a Gallery Walk. Print all the slides and distribute them through the room. Invite participants to walk around for 5–10 minutes to silently take them in. Then, ask them to respond to a prompt by moving to the slide that it applies to. Examples are “What slide confuses you the most?”, “What slide contains something you feel the strongest about?” or “What slide contains something that raises more questions than it answers?”. When they are at the slide, ask participants to share their thoughts with the others present. Repeat with a few more prompts. The interviewer can use patterns (where did most people go?) to drive the questions.

Closing

“Celebrity Interview” is a great way to let experts and leaders share their experiences in a more engaging and unleashing way. Instead of having to wait for the few minutes for questions at the end of a presentation, the audience is more engaged by generating questions halfway the interview. Give it a try!

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.

You can already support us with $1/month. Find out more on patreon.com/liberators

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