Interviewing like an expert


PR practitioners regularly interview clients when creating content for podcasts, news releases and other media relations materials. In order to develop an effective message strategy that connects with audiences through media channels, it’s essential to have a full understanding of the client, its company structure and the values it offers.

Recently, I attended the Association for Women in Communications’ Get Smart Conference, where Mike O’Krent, founder of LifeStories Alive, discussed how to “set the story free” during an interview. O’Krent developed these tips for a successful interview:

1) Begin with the end in mind. What do you want to get out of the conversation? Keep this question in mind when writing out your questions before the interview as well as during the interview. This will help you stay on track to meet your goals. It’s your job to bring the story out of the person, not the other way around.

2) Do your research. By researching your subject beforehand, you can smooth over any lulls in the interview and get past any “I can’t remember” responses by supplying factual information that may spark the subject’s memory.

3) Foster an open environment. Take time to get to know the subject (or the company) beforehand so they’re already comfortable around you when the interview begins. For interviews about sensitive or personal matters, conduct the interview in a familiar environment for the subject (such as a home or office) where you will not be disturbed. 

4) Respect your speaker. This seems like a given, but “closed-off” body language, failing to maintain eye contact and failing to show genuine interest in what they have to say can kill any interview. Also, foster trust in the interview by allowing the subject to be the expert – let them teach you about them. 

5) Be quiet and don’t interrupt! Wait at least a full second after the person finishes speaking to be sure they are done expressing their thought. Also, break the habit of making audible comments such as “uh-huh,” “right,” or “really” while they are speaking, especially if the interview is being recorded.

The best part about these tactics is that they can be applied to any conversation in your professional life, not just in interviews. To test your current interviewing skills, write down the discussions you have with others, who were the subjects, who talked more and what you learned. After doing this for 5-6 discussions, you’ll know exactly where your skills stand and what you can improve on.