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6 STEPS TO CONDUCTING A GOOD INTERVIEW
by Suzanne Sena
Founder, Sena-Series Media Training
Hosting Workshops, and Teleprompter Training Techniques

www.senaseries.com

One of the most valuable skills you can develop as a host or correspondent is the art of being able to conduct a good interview. When I started out in the business, long before I worked in Los Angeles or New York, I used to think I was a terrific interviewer. I wasn't. What I was, was a decent conversationalist. There's a difference.

Suzanne Sena - Conducting A Good InterviewA good conversationalist likes to talk and drives a conversation forward. A good interviewer does so much more.

I honed my interview skills when I first started working at E doing movie junkets - a series of interviews set up with a movie's stars, producers and directors. With less than three minutes allowed to obtain interesting sound bites, I learned the secrets to preparing, listening, and asking questions designed to get the quickest, most interesting answers in the time allowed.

There are six steps that a professional interviewer should follow. These are applicable whether you are an on-camera entertainment reporter, news correspondent, or hosting your own show for YouTube.

1) MAKE YOUR GUEST COMFORTABLE
It is the responsibility of the interviewer to put the interview subject at ease. You have the advantage - you know what you're after, and if your job is on-camera, you are most likely (hopefully) already comfortable being recorded. This may not be true of the person with whom you are speaking.

Suzanne Sena - Conducting A Good Interview
Suzanne Sena interviewing actress Rose Abdoo for the Michigan Positivity Project.

So how do you do this? Start by acknowledging your interview subjects warmly, before cameras are rolling. Chat with them about something unrelated to the interview but shows you are genuinely interested in them, looking for commonalities. Asking where they are from, how their day has been so far, are just two examples that can loosen things up a bit.

Jimmy Fallon is an expert at making his guests feel comfortable. He puts them at ease with his casual demeanor, his sense of fun, and the total attention he places on his guests. Often times you get the feeling you're simply observing a couple of friends hanging out - even when in fact they are meeting for the first time.

Another thing you should do is explain what's about to happen, reassuring your guest that it will be a conversation, that it is not live (therefore eliminating fears of "messing up") and letting that person know where to look. One of the most common sources of discomfort in those being interviewed is wondering if they should look at the interviewer of the camera. The answer is that when being interviewed, the person should look at you, as would be expected in a regular conversation.

Reassure your subject that he or she will do great, that there are no wrong answers and to try to forget the cameras are rolling. Smile, be friendly, and make good eye contact - your warm demeanor will go a long way in increasing their comfort level, and your interview will be better for it!

2) DO YOUR RESEARCH/KNOW YOUR STUFF



This may seem like a basic note, but you would be amazed at how many interviewers show up to conduct an interview without doing the proper research. If you are interviewing an author, of course reading that person's book is an obvious place to start....but a simple google search can lead you to other interviews he or she has given, provide insight into other areas of the person's life, and load you with a wide well of resources from which to pull your questions. If the person is an actor, then check out IMDB.com - the internet movie database. A basic web search will provide information on public figures in any area of business - but don't stop there. Search the person's name under "news" to see the latest information available, and look into their social media feeds for personal comments not otherwise found.

3) DON'T FLAUNT YOUR RESEARCH
One of the most common mistakes people tend to make is to start an interview by listing all the information they have learned about their interview subject, either in genuine awe or in wanting to show that they've done their homework. When interviewing a movie star, for example, a person may feel the need to start with "you've done this movie and that movie, and of course have directed such and such and won the academy award..." - but what does this accomplish? The person knows what he or she has done. Chances are the audience does as well, and if not, it will be covered in an introduction. Most interviews are timed, and every moment used for non-essential information like this costs you valuable time that could be used for the interview itself.

4) ASK SMART QUESTIONS



Questions that start with "What," "Why" and "How" will generate interesting answers. Questions that start with "Do" or "Is" are considered "yes or no" questions, as they could be answered simply with a yes or a no.

If you have done your research, you will not need to write down a list of questions ahead of time and read them from a card. In fact, doing so will result in a stiff interview, and missed opportunities. Simply get the interview going with a smart question, and then listen. By listening to your interview subject's answer, you will know what to ask next.

You are fortunate to be in a position of controlling what's asked - so try to ask the questions your viewers would want to know if they had the opportunity to do the same.

Suzanne Sena - Conducting A Good Interview
Suzanne Sena interviewing Musician Chad Smith for the Michigan Positivity Project.


5) KNOW WHEN TO RESPOND VERBALLY AND NON-VERBALLY
We see it in the business time and time again...a person is asked something and is giving a stellar, revealing, compelling answer...and the interviewer talks over the person's response, either by laughing, commenting too early, or adding their own comments, like "wow" or "unbelievable."

Generally speaking, you should learn to acknowledge a person non-verbally. Sometimes we feel that if we aren't audibly acknowledging the person, agreeing with them, adding "uh-huhs" or laughing when they say something funny, that they'll feel we aren't engaged. However, you can show engagement in your eyes, by nodding, and laughing quietly and smiling widely.

Why? Because if you are not featured on-camera in the interview, speaking over the person will ruin their sound bite. It will make that comment - potentially a juicy one - unusable on its own. It will not be usable for show teases, or in any other show or segment but yours.

The exception to this is if you are on a definite two shot the whole time or have two cameras and are definitely going to be featured in the story. Talk shows, for example, show a lot of verbal interaction between interviewers and their subjects - but if you pay attention, you'll notice that the experienced interviewers tend to try to keep their subjects responses clean.

6) BE GENUINELY CURIOUS AND INTERESTED
The best interviewers are those who are genuinely interested and curious. That natural curiosity will drive you to know what to ask, make the person interviewed feel you share his or her passion in the discussed topic, and will result in an intimate, interesting, and revealing interview that will make the audience feel watching it was time well spent. If you are genuinely curious and interested, you will have no problem LISTENING... and THAT is the key to a successful interview.

 

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