Episode 36 : Secret Interview Techniques the Professionals Don’t Even Know

by Ian

in Conversation, Interview, Podcast

Forget what you learnt at school!

It’s time to record an interview. But first we need to prepare, know the personality and everything about them – Correct?

This is what we’re told. All the professional interviewers say this. University courses say, in order to be able to engage with the interviewee we need to know everything about them, to know what to ask and get maximum advantage over them so we can get something juicy.


It's a facinating conversation …via *clarity* on flickr

So you prepare, read the biographies and papers. Listen to other interviews and do as much research as is possible to find the specific areas where you can dig around and maybe find some interesting angle to ask them, maybe even a little dirt.

This is the method that is mentioned everywhere to help you interview and if you intend to interview a celebrity or someone of note, it may be a valid approach. It’s a way of showing that you have done your research and you respect their field of expertise. What’s actually happening here though, is you’re going into the interview with your agenda to get what You want. You know everything about them and you have a line of questioning that suits you. This is not what we’re doing here with recording a Life Story.

It’s not an interrogation

We don’t want them to feel like it’s an interrogation where we’re drilling them for information as if they’re a British spy caught by the Stasi pre 1989.

Ultimately you want to create enough confidence in them so they feel as if you’re a friend, a very close friend at that. This will enable you to get what you want and they will get someone engaging to talk to. But this will only happen if you help them to feel.

  • Comfortable
  • Engaged
  • Open to tell stories as a conversation
  • Free from judgement or opinion

Our priority is to help them to relax and be completely comfortable so they’ll engage with us in casual conversation. This is not about us, this is entirely about them and what they want. If we concentrate on their comfort and care about who they are, with true genuine interest in their story, they will feel that interest and then open up to reveal, through the stories of their life, the things we want to hear. After all, we all want to be heard and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is to listen.

Your attitude is written large

We’ve all had those conversations where someone is pretending to be interested in us but we know, despite what comes out of their mouth, that they really find us tedious. The classic is where they are reading, taking a note or sending a text message while saying “It’s okay I’m still listening please carry on…”

We know when someone is disinterested and so will the person you’re talking to. Our body language will give it away in a flash but so will the way we engage with them.

We show our interest by

  • Looking directly at them
  • Giving non-verbal responses, like nodding or smiling
  • Asking a question relevant specifically to something that was mentioned
  • Referencing to previous comments. If several hours ago all the better
  • Allowing them to take the conversation where they want to take it
  • Noticing when they are becoming tired, bored and uncomfortable

There are rabbit holes that need searching

Having an agenda means it’s about us and what we want to acheive. We have our list of topics and questions and all we want to do is work our way through it to know that we have done our job. That’s all well and good but along the way a subject will come up that will take us down an unexpected and potentially wonderful rabbit hole. To ignore this new direction is to disrespect their interests and express that you don’t really care and it’s all about your own agenda.

The fact that they have brought up something unexpected indicates their interests, which will inevitably lead to some great stories. Ignoring the rabbit holes is a sure fire way to miss the very best stories.

Once you have travelled down this new path and searched out what is to be found, it’s then time to return to your list and recommence where you diverged from the original path but additionally, you now have an interesting new branch you never knew existed.

Listen – That why you have two ears and only one mouth

This is their story and your only roll is to facilitate their telling of that. So ask the questions and add a little of yourself to show you’re listening and engaged with what they’re saying and assist them in storytelling but if they’re talking Shut Up. Only start saying something once they have finished talking and there is a pause. If they’re on a roll just sit back and enjoy the ride and the fact that you’re listening intently will encourage them to open up and express themselves.

I measure my listening skill by how well I can pick up a conversation after a distraction. Often even the person speaking won’t know what they were talking about but if I can quickly recap, I know I haven’t spaced out and I’ve reafurmed to them that I was truely listening and not just faking it.

You’re not there to judge

They may say some things that you don’t agree with and maybe that is something you can discuss later but when it comes to your opinion it’s irrelevant to their story. Your roll is to facilitate them by showing an interest and not showing any judgement of what they say.

It’s worth remembering that if the situation was exactly the same you would have done as they did so leave all judgement out of the conversation and operate out of empathy for them so you won’t have to pretend. It’s their life after all.

Prepare from 30,000 feet

The easiest way for you to be facinated in their life story and remain engaged is to not know in detail their topics but have a ‘lay of the land’ world view of the general topics that are to be discussed. Additionally some understanding,  about the overall cultural aspects of these topics which can add significantly to the overall conversation. Prepare as if looking down from 30,000 feet but allow them to fill in the details.

Things to remember during the conversation

  • It’s all about them
  • Listen
  • Engage non-verbally
  • Shut-up
  • General knowledge of topics
  • Have fun

What are the elements that made the best conversations you’ve ever had? Let us know in the comments below.

Use some of the ideas in the e-Book Recording Life Stories to help while remembering to fill out the initial survey before and then after you read the e-Book. Just sign up for it in the side bar form, (it’s over there to the right up the top)

To automatically receive this free podcast, click on the iPhone image to the right or search in iTunes for “Create Your Life Story” or Subscribe in iTunes by Clicking here. If you use another Podcast software Get the feed here.

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Music is from

Carles Cases
“Rosita Please” (mp3)
from “Tribute to Humphrey (Recomposed 3)”
(Temps Record)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
More On This Album

Happy TalkKermit Ruffins
“Panama” (mp3)
from “Happy Talk”
(Basin Street)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
More On This Album

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