Interviews can be a fun way to build your audience — here’s how to get the most out of them.
Not sure how to get started? Check out The Art of the Interview, from Blogging U‘s Writing 201 course, “Beyond the Blog Post.” Mark Armstrong covers interview prep, tools, and offers a sample reading list of great interviews to inspire you.
As humans, we’re innately curious about one another, maybe because understanding others is one way to better understand ourselves. Interviews, via podcast, video, or print can help you expand your audience and attract repeat visitors to your site. Today, we’ll look at some tips on how to craft interview questions that will make for compelling watching, listening, or reading on your blog.
Get schooled on your subject
I sometimes find that in interviews you learn more about yourself than the person learned about you.
Your interview subject has said yes: congratulations! After you celebrate, start preparing: read your subject’s work. Read their blog, Google them, check out reactions to their work, and study other interviews with them. Researching your subject demonstrates respect, which is critical to building the trust and rapport that encourages your interviewee to open up. Plus, a dilettante interviewer (one who has not done their homework) has a certain awful smell that repels interviewees and readers. Don’t be that person!
One of the biggest benefits of preparation? Creating interesting, original questions that draw new insights from your subject — making for compelling reading.
Questions, questions, questions
Ask original questions. This might seem like a no-brainer, though this is where your preparation pays off. As you review your questions, check them against questions others have asked in previous interviews. The interview experience will be more interesting for your subject and your readers will get something never seen before. Win-win.
In a recent interview with the author Colm Tóibín, Jessica Gross demonstrates that she’s done her homework with this original question: In your books, there is so much meditation on being alone and how it is a double-edged sword. A lot of your characters are really pained by solitude, but then, in other moments, crave it. Could you talk a little bit about solitude in your own life?
Tell me about… Did you have a good day at school, Philbert? Yes, mom. This is a scene you may perpetrate with your kids today, or something you might have suffered through as a child. “Did you” will get you a yes or no answer, and not much more. Get open ended: “Tell me about your day…” will offer more interesting results, ones that might beg follow-up questions.
Be prepared to ditch your playbook. You’ve read everything you can. You’ve studied up. You’re mid-interview and your subject just shared something intensely interesting you’ve never heard before. Do you go on to the next question in your list? NO! In the spirit of American TV tropes, follow that car! and see where your interviewee takes you.
Elicit opinions. Readers are interested in your subject’s point of view. One way to get them talking is to make a statement and ask for their opinion. In this recent interview with Vela Mag‘s Sara Menkedick, Cheri Lucas Rowlands does just that, as she seeks to learn more about Sarah’s perspective on memoir: The personal essay and memoir is often viewed as primarily female territory. The use of ‘I’ can come off as self-indulgent, and, perhaps, is viewed as less serious when used by women. Can you touch upon that? The question, “Can you touch upon that?” is a wonderful, gentle way of inviting an interview subject to share their thinking on an interesting and/or controversial topic.
Embrace the emotional. Strong feelings, regardless of whether they’re positive or negative, stick with us — we remember them while the banal and mundane are quickly lost in busy lives. Ben Huberman does a great job going for the emotion that PostSecret‘s Frank Warren feels about his project in this question: Has being exposed to so many confessions of pain and suffering over the years affected you? Has it changed who you are?
Learn from the greats
Which interviews have moved you? Got you thinking differently? Share your favorites in the comments.