(AND MY INTERVIEW WITH TONY VISCONTI)
Very often in business, you’ll find yourself reaching for one of the most important items in your communication toolkit – the interview. Recruitment aside (we’ll look at that kind of interview in a separate blog), you might use interviews to gather information, to learn from experts, and perhaps to create content for your business or marketing.
I want to share some quick and simple interviewing tips, because it’s a subject close to my heart this week. In fact, it’s safe to say there has been quite a flurry of excitement behind the scenes here at Lucy & Emma HQ. This week, I was offered the opportunity to interview a lifelong hero of mine – and I’ve never been one to turn away from an opportunity.
The legendary musician and producer Tony Visconti was doing a tiny handful of interviews in the UK this week, promoting a band tour. Visconti was David Bowie’s friend and producer for 50 years – and I’m a massive (yes, ok, that’s a new way of spelling ‘obsessive’) Bowie fan. I’m also a former journalist, and I was asked to put those two attributes together to produce a 3,000-word feature for a digital music magazine.
They say you should never meet your heroes, as they’ll only disappoint. I’ve never bought into that – but I will admit to being nervous about this one. OK, I was terrified. I’ve been interviewing and writing for 30 years, but I really felt there was every chance of turning into a blithering fangirl on this one.
I knew I needed to get on top of my game, so I rummaged through my mental archive of great interviews, and pulled out the following practical tips:
BE REALLY CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT
You’re going to need more than small talk for your interview, but you can only guide the conversation into what you need if you know what that is. What do you want to learn from this person? What specific information do you want them to talk about?
For example, I knew I wanted Tony Visconti to talk about the global outpouring of grief when David Bowie died, as that suited feature outline I had prepared better than, say, his experience of working with Paul McCartney.
It might mean wanting a business guru to talk about business investment specifically, rather than their expertise in marketing.
In both cases, being clear about what you want to get from the interview means being clear about what you’re not going to talk about too. Your interview time will be limited to some degree.
On that note, it’s really worth getting agreement up front about how long the interview will last. Then you can prepare an appropriate plan for the conversation.
PREPARE YOUR QUESTIONS ACCORDINGLY
Armed with your clear objectives, you can think about what questions will elicit the information you need.
You’ll very likely need a few ‘question funnels’ – a mini-series of questions, if you like, to introduce and then explore a particular theme.
Using my Visconti interview as an example once more, I prepared a key question to get us talking about Bowie’s final album, then a funnel question to ask how it felt to work on this production knowing how ill Bowie was, and a further funnel question to explore the possibility of any new material. Then I turned to a new key question, this time about Visconti’s upcoming tour, with some funnel questions to find out more about the musicians involved, and so on.
Make sure your interviewee has a clear view of what you’re trying to achieve, too. It’s more comfortable for them if they understand what you are asking them about, and much easier for them to give you what you need. Good manners, and good results!
This is the time to think about the kinds of questions you use, too. Open questions will invite a detailed response, clarifying questions will allow you to check your understanding, and closed questions will help you agree a statement – as just a few examples. And a quick word of warning – lots of closed questions not only make it hard to get plentiful or unexpected information, it also makes your interview feel more like an interrogation. And who wants one of those?
BUT DON’T ASK MULTIPLE QUESTIONS
This is so important, it gets a section on its own. You might ask multiple questions because you were nervous, and crammed two or three things into one. Or you might not have been very clear in your first attempt and tried again with a slightly different angle. I’ve known people do this because they see no other way of fitting all their questions in to the allotted interview time (another reason for doing that planning up front!).
Whatever the reason, asking multiple questions is pretty well guaranteed to get you two results, neither of which you want – an overwhelmed interviewee, and a less-than-clear response. It takes a very polished (and patient) interviewee to process all the questions you’ve asked in one go.
If you’ve planned out your questions in advance, you can double-check you haven’t inadvertently slipped in any multiple questions. More importantly, you can check each question is clear, so you won’t have to try to ask the same thing in different ways in the moment.
GET THE MOST IMPORTANT STUFF IN EARLY
How many times have you been in conversation with someone, and run out of time before you even got to the good part? Perhaps you’ve even had someone excuse themself early for some reason.
It happens. But you can at least make sure you get the information or content you need most, by asking the most important questions up front. It’s tempting to engage in lots of small-talk, or start with minor questions to get warmed up, but it’s much more effective to make sure you get what you need. This also gives you more flexibility to explore the major topics, as the conversation provokes new questions.
LEARN TO LOVE THE SILENCE
Well, at least learn to get comfortable with pauses. Give people a moment to collect their thoughts. I know many people are really uncomfortable with silences, but I actually like it when someone takes a moment to give my question real consideration rather than jumping to the first or easy answer.
Bear in mind that jumping in to fill the gap is a common cause of the ‘multiple question’ danger we described above.
Our coaching programme on body language goes into detail about how you can visibly show you are listening. It’s harder to demonstrate active listening if you are interviewing by phone (which is often the case), but respecting the ‘thinking pause’ is one of the best ways to show your interviewee you are really listening to them.
I hope this helps you prepare for interviews, as well as conduct them; I think that at least half a good interview is determined before either party has even said hello.
Meanwhile, if you fancy reading what Tony Visconti had to say about working with David Bowie, click here to take a look at the feature I wrote for Music Republic Magazine.
And remember that we share hints and tips like this every week, to help you get better business results through great communication. Why not sign up to have this delivered each week to your inbox, so you never miss a thing?
I’m off for a bit of a lie-down; it’s been a very exciting week! See you soon.