Being a great interviewer: tips for putting your guest at ease

IF YOU’VE ever had a job interview, then you’ll know how much easier things are when everyone is simply relaxed and friendly! If the atmosphere in the room is tense and awkward, you might not say the right things at all in the interview! If you have a job as a journalist or are a freelancer who occasionally needs to interview people for an article – be it a painter, businessperson, teacher, or even a director – then the same advice applies if you’re the one asking the questions: put your guest at ease!

Find somewhere comfortable and quiet

A bustling café might be a nice setting at first, but it may be too loud and hectic for your guest to really open up and feel comfortable. Plus, when it comes time to listen back to the interview on your phone or recording device, your chat could be drowned out by the sounds of clinking dishes and other people talking! Most guests prefer to be interviewed in a space they know, such as their own home, but always think about the time of day and how busy the location is if you need to go somewhere public.

Ask before recording if there’s anything they’d rather not discuss

A bit of chit-chat before you start recording is a nice way to loosen up and get to know the guest a little better, but you may want to ask a serious question such as, “Is there a topic you don’t feel comfortable discussing?” Many guests don’t like it when an interviewer jumps onto a subject that they didn’t expect, especially if it’s something sensitive about their past. Many celebrity guests have walked out of interviews because the host went a bit too deep on a touchy subject. Most people don’t need an introduction to clickbait by now, but it’s pretty well documented that some hosts unfortunately just want to discuss controversial topics in order to get an eye-opening headline!

Prepare notes, but don’t blindly stick to them

An interview can simply turn into a great conversation that sounds natural if you don’t stick to a formula so rigidly. Preparing questions beforehand is necessary, but always ask the most important ones first and it may happen that you can invite the guest to expand on something if they say something interesting. Some hosts suggest that when your guest has finished discussing something, don’t break the silence with another question for a few seconds, just in case they would like to continue talking and really open up.

Research and keep checking right up to the interview

A good interviewer always researches the guest as much as possible, but in the case of someone famous, keep checking the news concerning this person right up to the interview. This is because something important may have happened the day before and you’d otherwise have no idea! As well, if possible, research other interviews this person has done in order to avoid asking the same questions over and over again. Guests hate having to repeat themselves, but definitely relish having something new to discuss.

For example, don’t ask a band: “So, how does this album sound different from your last one?” Rather, ask them something specific like what inspired them to write a certain song or if they wanted to write more personal lyrics for the new album. Always put yourself in their shoes: What would you think is interesting to discuss if you were a musician?

Don’t fiddle with your gadgets or equipment

Get familiar with your recording equipment beforehand, so that you’re not constantly checking cables or levels while your guest is talking. It’s a bit rude not to give them your full attention, but it makes you look nervous and unsure of yourself. Trust that your technology will record your guest properly, and focus on listening and asking good questions.

End with something fun

Finally, if you don’t want to end the chat on a serious topic, you can ask something fun like their favourite food, a “Would you rather…” question, or what they’re preferred superpower might be. Questions like these wrap up things nicely and finish the interview on a light, positive note.

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