There’s no doubt that interviewing experts and releasing the resulting clips can be a powerful strategy for generating traffic and building brand awareness. But just because interviews can be powerful doesn't mean they always turn out that way. Without some direction, it's very easy for interviews to fall into the latter camp.
That's where this article comes in. It's all based on my experience producing more than 50 expert interviews, which people like Emerson Spartz (the young founder of Spartz Media who built a website with 50 million pageviews at age 12) and Ron Klein (the inventor of the magnetic credit card strip). And while I can’t claim that my clips are truly “flawless,” I have learned quite a bit after producing them. Based on my failures and successes, here are a few of the lessons on producing amazing interviews.
Perfecting Your “Ask”
Deciding which experts to invite to your interviews can be tricky. While interviewing your industry’s top experts can pay off big in terms of viewer interest and social shares, getting these gurus to commit can be difficult, if not impossible. But at the same time, interviewing lesser-known authority figures doesn’t give you quite as much bang for the buck you’ve invested in producing the clip.
The following are a few of the tips and tricks I’ve uncovered while pitching my show to hundreds of potential guest experts:
Time your requests to their launches.
Ask for interviews when you know your target experts have new products coming out. They’ll be much more likely to accept in exchange for the publicity needed to make the launch successful.
Make your value clear.
Too many people come across as selfish in their interview pitches (for example, “My audience would really love to hear your story!”). A much stronger approach is to lead with the value you bring to the table. Instead, it would be much better to say, “I have an audience of 5,000 highly-engaged YouTube subscribers and 15,000 Twitter followers, and I’d be happy to promote your interview and your product to them.”
Ask for referrals.
Once you’ve completed an interview, ask your guests if they know anybody else that they think you should reach out to. If they have promising leads, request that they send out an email to introduce the two of you. Doing so is far more likely to lead to great interview subjects that say yes to your requests than sending out cold emails.
Setting Up Your Equipment
Hopefully, you’ve been able to line up a series of interesting interview subjects using the tips above. Now it’s time to set up the equipment you’ll use to capture the conversation!
When it comes to interview equipment, you can go all out and put together a professional-level recording studio in your home, or you can work on a shoestring budget using Skype and a few other tools. If you’re going for flawless (or, at least, somewhat professional), though, you’ll want to step up your game a little bit.
The following are all the equipment pieces I use when recording my interviews:
Overall, this setup is reasonably affordable, though you’ll find more great equipment recommendations here if you want to go either higher or lower end.
If I could give you one tip here, it would be to spend some time getting to know your equipment inside and out before beginning your first interview. Trust me, the time to figure out what all those buttons in Audacity do is not when you’re recording your first clip and wasting your subject’s time!
It’s also not a bad idea to have a back-up recording system in place in case your primary option fails. The last thing you want to do is get to the end of your scheduled time and realize that your footage is either damaged or nonexistent.
Preparing Your Questions
In addition to spending time learning your equipment, put some effort into researching your subject and developing your questions in advance of your interview.
Interviewing is a skill that must be practiced like any other, so expect to feel a bit shaky on your first few sessions. With time, you’ll learn how to take the responses you receive and generate follow-up questions on the spot, but when you’re first starting out, you’ll want to have a good list to work off of to prevent awkward silences. If you’re feeling stuck, you can use the following prompt/question list as the foundation for your interview process:
Tell me about your background.
Tell me more about your current company.
What experiences led you to this company?
How did you get started with this company?
What challenges have you faced with this company?
How have you overcome these challenges?
Where do you find inspiration?
What do you think people need to have to be successful?
What recommendations do you have for my listeners?
A few more notes about putting together great interview questions:
Briefly familiarize yourself with the subject’s background ...
... but don't do so much research that your “interview” turns into you reciting the expert’s history back to him. Remember, the goal is to get the expert talking. If your questions turn into statements (for example, “I read that when you were the president of Company Corp, you said your biggest challenge was securing IP rights …”), you prevent the subject from providing his own insight.
If possible, give your subject a list of proposed questions in advance.
This will prevent your conversation from wandering into any uncomfortable areas that the expert would rather not address.
Don’t be afraid to go off script.
Treat the questions above as guidelines (or as a safety net you can use if the conversation lags), but don’t feel that you need to ask each of them, in order. If one question leads your subject off in a different direction, embrace it!
Conducting Your Interviews
You and your expert subject have set a time, you’ve exchanged emails regarding potential questions and now the day has arrived -- it’s time to conduct your interview.
Unless you’re the world's most extroverted person, there’s a good chance you’ll be nervous, at least for your first few interview sessions. Interviewing experts you’ve always looked up to can be intimidating, but eventually you will loosen up and enjoy the project. Keep the following tips in mind when it comes to conducting your interviews:
Have a “day of” checklist that you run through before beginning your interview.
To prevent your nerves from getting the best of you, put together a checklist of everything you need to do before, during and after the session. Include even simple things like “plug in microphone” or “press ‘Record’ in Audacity” so that you don’t miss critical steps in your excitement.
Warm up your guest.
Remember: You have the ability to edit your clip later on, so don’t feel that you need to be in “interview mode” the moment you initiate the call. Instead, spend a few minutes warming up your guest by asking informal questions and previewing what you want to cover in the interview itself. Try to develop a fun rapport before announcing that you’re beginning the formal interview process.
Respect time limits.
When the conversation is rolling and your interview is going great, it can seem like your allotted time has flown by. But do your subject a favor and cut the call off at your agreed upon time. It can be tough to feel like you’re missing out on even more great information, but unless your guest explicitly allows you to go over time, remember that most experts operate on tight schedules in which every minute counts.
You may also find it helpful to save a few minutes at the end of your call for a “debrief” session, during which you can ask if there’s any information that was shared that they’d prefer be left out of the final product. We all say things in the heat of the moment that we wish we could take back, and the power of editing and post-production software can turn you into a hero by saving your expert from this particular embarrassment.
Finalizing Your Clips
After the interview is completed, it’s time for post-production. Don’t just publish your raw footage to your website! Instead, keep the following tips in mind to ensure that your final product looks as professional and prestigious as the expert you just interviewed:
Begin with a logo or intro clip.
Instead of just launching into your interview, either open with a logo or intro clip to create a powerful branded message.
Publish your takeaways and transcripts.
Before I share my finished interviews to my website, I’ll go through and make a list of the key takeaways that I want readers to get from the clip, as well as have a transcript created. Not only does this help viewers to get more out of the footage, it improves my site’s SEO by including content crawlers can actually read.
Promote your interview far and wide.
Experts don’t usually agree to give interviews for the hell of it. Typically, they consent to these conversations to help build their brand, increase their follower counts, and even make sales from the new customers that will be introduced to their products. Reward their contributions by pushing the interview out to your followers on multiple channels at several different times.
Final Tip: Just Get Started
The one final tip I’d offer if you’re interested in producing expert interviews is to just get started. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the prospect of contacting potential subjects and don’t let a lack of tech knowledge keep you from putting together the equipment set-up needed to conduct your conversations. Both of these -- and many others -- are just excuses that keep you from doing the work you should be doing.
If you’re feeling anxious, that’s a good sign that you’re on the right track. Remember, with practice, your interview skills will improve and the quality of the product you turn out will increase -- that is, if you don’t let fear prevent you from getting started in the first place!
Now, I want to hear from you. Do you use expert interviews to help build your brand? Share any other tips you think should be added to this list in the comments section below!
Originally published Nov 26, 2014 6:00:00 AM, updated November 21 2017