Top 10 Tips for Conducting an Exceptional Interview

In this blog post, I share my top 10 tips for conducting an exceptional interview for your podcast, your YouTube channel, and your website. You’ll learn:

  • The benefits of interviews
  • How to serve your audience with your interviews
  • What homework you need to do pre-interview
  • The types of questions — open-ended and follow-up questions — to ask your interviewee(s)
  • How to create a warm, welcoming interview environment
  • Ways to give space and opportunity to your interviewee
  • The importance of listening
  • Why you should emphasize understanding
  • The tools to use for high-quality production
  • What you should never do in an interview
  • And how to have a little fun too!

Ready for your interview prep? Let’s do this.

One of the best ways to create content online is to interview someone — a person who complements you and your brand or fills the gaps.

Interviews are extremely beneficial because:

  • You can generate unique and refreshing content for your audience. You don’t need to be the expert to deliver expert advice.
  • It can raise your level of authority simply because of public association with the interviewee.
  • You build a relationship with the person you are interviewing, which could possibly lead to other growth opportunities for you and your brand down the road.
  • But conducting interviews (especially audio or video interviews) isn’t easy. (At least good ones that are worth people’s time.)

    Although most of the content is generated by the person you are interviewing, the responsibility to fashion an interview worth consuming still lies in your hands — and it’s not just about asking the right questions either.

    It’s about genuine interest, flow, vibe, sincerity, concern, digging deeper, defining the unclear, attracting stories, avoiding awkwardness… and being conscious about all of that at the same time.

    After conducting hundreds of interviews of my own on the SPI Podcast and on my YouTube channel, and being interviewed on many podcasts and YouTube channels, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to conduct a worth-listening-to interview — one that is captivating and full of content that your audience wants to hear.

    It’s difficult to choose, but here are a few of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done:

    And that’s not to mention the warm, fun, insightful interviews you can hear in the backlog of The Community Experience, a show we sunsetted in 2022. Here are a few standout episodes:

    Below are my top 10 tips for conducting an exceptional interview:

    10. Remember Who the Interview Serves

    Two words: Your Audience.

    Although the interview may help you and your brand while at the same time help the person you are interviewing (by giving them exposure to your audience) your number one priority should be to enlighten your audience — to get answers that are meaningful from the person you’re interviewing.

    Your audience will appreciate it greatly, and serving your audience first is a gesture of appreciation. Believe me.

    9. Pre-Interview Homework

    There are few things that you should do before the interview actually happens:

  • Understand a little bit about who you’re interviewing first. Sure, you’re conducting an interview to learn more about a person and what they do, but as the interviewer you should know more than your audience so that you can properly introduce the person and ask the right questions. If you can find an existing interview with the person on another website, you can gauge their style and tone and create questions accordingly.
  • Confirm the details of the interview with the person you’re interviewing. This is especially important if you’re interviewing someone in a different time zone. Some things to confirm are:
    • Date and time.
    • Method of communication. (Zoom, phone call, smoke signals).
    • Approximate length of interview.
  • Test your recording equipment! Microphone, audio, or Zoom, SquadCast, or Riverside settings.
  • Prepare a list of questions. See the next tip . . .
  • P.S. I share additional pre-interview tips including having a notebook with you and avoiding too much preparation in SPI TV Episode 50:

    8. Prepare a List of Flexible, Open-Ended Interview Questions and Possible Follow-up Questions

    You should prepare a list of questions that will act as a template for the interview — a guide for the path that you want to take from start to finish.

    But not a shopping list that you should stick to 100 percent.

    For each question, you should come up with two or three possible follow-up questions that might be suitable to ask, depending on the answer. You probably won’t get to them all, but because they are there it’s a good reminder just in case the perfect opportunity comes up to dig deeper into a topic of interest.

    As far as the questions themselves, here are a few basic rules:

  • Don’t ask YES or NO questions.
  • Don’t ask more than one question at a time.
  • Keep them relevant but be creative.
  • Phrase the questions in a way that will allow the person being interviewed to expand.
  • Offer to show the questions to the person you’re interviewing to make sure they’re comfortable with them, which goes along with . . .
  • 7. Provide a Welcoming Environment for the Interview

    In order to get the best answers from the people you interview, you’ve got to create a welcoming environment for them.

    A comfortable person, one who feels as if they are just having a conversation with a friend, will be more likely to give beefier information in a more enthusiastic and friendly tone, which benefits everyone.

    Here are some ways to create a comfortable environment for the person you’re interviewing:

    • Let them know before you even start recording that it’s really just a conversation about two people connecting with each other.
    • Make sure they know all of the details about the interview beforehand.
    • Ask them if they’d like to see the questions first.
    • Thank them for the interview before you even start and introduce them to your audience.
    • Be enthusiastic!

    6. Allow the Person You’re Interviewing to Talk

    One of the worse things you can do as an interviewer is take over the interview yourself. You’ve got to give the person you’re interviewing a chance to communicate as much as possible without interruption. The more they talk the better.

    It’s important to engage in conversation, yes, but there’s a line you can cross where it starts to become rude and/or just not valuable to your audience. Don’t interrupt. Remember, you are creating a space for them to share their story. It’s about them, and it’s about you facilitating the conversation for them.

    5. Listen!

    This may sound obvious, but you’ve got to listen!

    Be engaged in the interview — not just a person who reads the questions aloud.

    This is much tougher than it sounds. As an interviewer myself, it’s extremely easy to “drift off” while the other person is talking. It’s not that you become bored and uninterested (I hope), but you might “tune out” while you wait for them to finish so you can move on to your next question. Don’t do that.

    What helps is to think of your interview as not really an interview at all, but as a conversation that doesn’t follow a linear path. Sometimes, in tangential side stories, gold can be discovered.

    Always listen actively — be engaged and present.

    4. Actually Want to Understand Your Interviewee

    Along the same lines, you must want to understand — and this can be done on different levels.

    On the surface, it’s just about understanding the situation or what’s happening. What did this person do and why is it important to share?

    On a deeper level, however, it becomes much more interesting, both for you as the interviewer and those who will eventually listen to it. On that deeper level, it becomes: why does this person do what they do, and how?

    Pro interviewers like Andrew Warner from Mixergy and David Siteman Garland do a fantastic job of actually wanting to learn everything there is to learn about a person or a process — not just the what but also the how and why. I genuinely feel like it’s because they want to fully understand everything, which is why their shows are so popular.

    3. Strive for High-Quality Interview Production

    Bad quality audio or video can ruin a fantastic interview. Some people won’t even listen if the quality isn’t there.

    Do whatever possible (within your budget, of course) to conduct a high-quality interview.

    I personally use a Heil PR-40 Microphone and conduct most of my interviews using Squadcast. I also like the CAD U49, ATR2100x (USA), and Samson Q2U microphones. I recommend the ATR and Samson in my How to Start a Podcast video class, which you get for free when you download the Podcast Cheat Sheet. [Disclaimer: The Squadcast and microphone links are affiliate links, which means I get paid a commission if you purchase through those links.]

    Also, check out Auphonic, which is a free tool that makes sure both sides of the conversation are at the same volume level.

    If you want to add an extra oomph to your recording quality, check out my video:

    2. As an Interviewer, Never…

    • Ask a Yes or No question.
    • Ask more than one question at a time.
    • Say “…and my next question is…”
    • Allow for an awkward pause or dull moment.
    • Be disrespectful to your audience and the person you’re interviewing.
    • Forget to be present with the person you’re interviewing.
    • Rely too much on research or notes, as it takes away from your active listening.
    • Keep your mouth on your microphone (or breath into the mic) while the other person is talking.
    • Forget who you’re serving.

    1. Have Fun!

    I know it’s cliche to end a top 10 list with “have fun” — but in this case it will truly help your interview.

    Having fun with it will actually make you and the person you’re interviewing much more comfortable, which will lead to better content for your audience.

    If you make it seem like a task or a chore, then it will reflect in the interview — and that’s not what we want.

    Have fun, enjoy the experience, develop new relationships, and generate some amazing content!

    Ask the Audience: What Makes an Interview Exceptional to You?

    What makes an interview exceptional and what makes an interview terrible?

    Here’s what some people had to say about it on the SPI Facebook Page [which has since closed down]:

    Jennylou Raya says:

    Exceptional is when they show genuine interest in the person, asks questions no one asks but others would be dying to know. Good is consistency from one interview to another without sounding like a broken record when you have a chance to listen to the interview archives all in one day. Terrible is when the interviewer is unprepared and has no clue who they are talking to or knows less than the audience.

    Jason Bellomy says:

    The main thing for me is that the person conducting the interview does not dominate the conversation. The goal should be to let the interviewee do most of the talking while the interviewer pushes the conversation in a direction where he feels his listening audience would benefit.

    Brandon Figueroa says:

    Exceptional: The interview is incredibly informative. Meaning, they ask lots of ‘meaty’ questions (and none of that basic boring stuff) with lots of answers and perspectives that most people haven’t thought of or seen before.

    Terrible: Poor audio quality, no one cracks a joke, monotone, uptight, uninformative, repetitive stuff that people already know.

    Awesome Interview (Bonus): it’s ‘shareable’. Extremely entertaining AND informative at the same time…

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