9 Media Pros Weigh In On What They Feel Makes For A Great Interview!

When I began writing for magazines in 2006, I hadn't a clue how to conduct an interview.  As my interest was always a person's journey to that moment in time, I literally began with - Where were you born? What were you like as a kid? As a teen? This worked brilliantly for me and I still follow that format today.

It was only after I released my first book - Life Outside the Box: The Extraordinary Journeys of 10 Unique Individuals - that I suddenly found myself the interviewee responding to questions. No matter how much interviewing you do, it doesn't always translate to confidence when the tables are turned and you are not in charge. And it seemed each interviewer had their own approach.

Being nervous before an interview is common, especially if it's your first one. So I decided to reach out to some of the amazing, talented industry professionals I know (many who have interviewed me) and asked them to share their expertise. Whether you're facing your first interview or still find them uncomfortable, this panel of experts offer some great tips to guide you. For myself - my best advice is don't be afraid to ask questions before the interview, know what the one thing you feel is most important to share is and speak from your heart.

Panelists include -  Jennifer Swanson (Author, Educator, Podcast Host), Sara Troy (Radio Owner/Host), Paul Mantello (Author, Life Coach, Podcast Host), Kait Burgan (TV Host/Producer), Christina Waschko (Videographer, Writer, Author, TV Host), Luisa Marshall (TV Host/Producer, Artist, Writer), Randi Winter ( Journalist of Inspired Pursuits), Miranda Sam (Editor and Freelance Writer) and Robbin Whachell (Publicist, Writer, Photo-journalist, Editor).

= = = =

What makes for a great interview from your point of view?

Jennifer Swanson - A great interview happens when the interviewee shares with the world what they are passionate about and why. When honest, open, relaxed and sincere conversation happens, I feel as though I'm in the room too. These are my favourite interviews to listen to.

Robbin Whachell - Today, and in particular with my online international news portal, I work interviews primarily by emailing questions that my interviewee will answer, as it allows the person time to review and write what they want to be known. Seeing it in print before it is presented publicly is powerful. Face to face interviews are okay, but you don't get the richness that a written interview offers.

Sara Troy - Connection and openness.

Paul Mantello - The willingness of the interviewee to be vulnerable and honest (no rehearsed answers) and for the host to know what questions to ask and when.

Kait Burgan - A great interview is one that takes viewers, readers and listeners to a new place of awareness. It makes them see the world and all the people in it in a new light. It inspires through passion, vulnerability and truth.

Christina Waschko - Come ready to have a good time and relax. Enjoy the experience.
Luisa Marshall - Interviews that are candid, unpredictable, fun and realistic. Reasons why reality shows are most watched. My viewers love to see great interaction on controversial topics.

Randi Winter - Be authentic! Share something unique for each interview, and it is equally the interviewer's responsibility to dig below the usual for a fresh perspective on at least one aspect of the interview. When framing questions and in responses, both parties should be considerate of the others time and what the mutual purpose is, and first focus on getting that part covered. Then digress...

Miranda Sam - You know you nailed an interview when you can connect with your subject on a personal level, you feel they're sharing things with you like they would a close friend. At the same time, they reveal things that haven't been written about in other media. 

What is your number one tip for someone who is facing their first interview and is nervous?

Jennifer Swanson - Listen well. Instead of internally rehearsing what you might say next, allow yourself to listen to the question and to speak from the heart. It's more spontaneous and real that way, and being yourself is always best.

Robbin Whachell - Face to face interviews are nerve-wracking for most people... just take a deep breath and go with your heart on answers. Keep your responses focused and to the point.

Sara Troy - Just be you and breathe. Be inviting and don’t fear honesty, own your answers.

Paul Mantello - Relax & be yourself. You'll probably feel like you screwed up no matter what. So just have fun and know that they'll be more interviews which gives you the chance to improve. (No one was born knowing how to walk, so expect to fall)

Kait Burgan - The interviewer is there (in our field of interviewing) to support and help you. It’s not all on your shoulders. I always tell nervous people that they are not talking to “all the thousands of people out there”, but one person. We consume media, for the most part, individually and therefore, it really is a one on one. The interviewer is helping you reach people that you don’t have direct access to.

Christina Waschko - There is no right or no wrong. Remember, if it's not a live interview all mistakes can be edited.

Luisa Marshall - To take a deep breath, be casual and to focus on how important the information they are about to give can make a difference to other people’s lives. If that doesn’t work… maybe give them a shot of tequila before the interview. LOL!

Randi Winter - Always have a personal off the record conversation before and always say hi. Knowing a bit about your interviewer also helps so you can feel like you have some control over the process... like I loved the interview you did of .... or what was it like to interview someone who might have intimidated them, so you get to share that feeling of nervousness... and then break the ice with something that will make both of you smile (if appropriate)..it starts things off on the best foot. If it is a tragedy or serious, then look them in the eyes and let them feel your deep connection to the subject of the interview.

Miranda Sam - For the interviewee, be open and honest, but not too vulnerable.

Is  there anything special to consider when being interviewed on your specific medium - TV, Radio, Podcast, Video, Magazine?

Jennifer Swanson (podcast) - With a podcast, knowing the length of the interview in advance, and whether or not the recording will be edited can be helpful information. It would also be good to listen to an episode or two of the podcast first to get a sense of the interviewer and of the tone and topic/focus of the program so that you know what the host is looking for. If the interviewer is skilled, you will relax in the first few moments and the rest should be easy!

Robbin Whachell (Online Magazine) - As far as being prepared, I've often suggested to people I mentor, to make sure their social media pages are cleaned up and ready for presentation. A lot of people miss this, and today reporters, writers do their homework. Remove unnecessary spam if you let others write on your wall, and if you do not have a business Like page, why not? Everyone is on social media, and the search window is handy. Be sure your page is representing you as you would like to be seen.

Sara Troy (radio) - Title is topic of show/article/TV so people know what you will be talking about and should be easy to remember.

Paul Mantello (podcast) - Cut out all distraction, be sure there are no interruptions and turn off all electronic devices. After all, you need to give your full undivided attention to the interviewer.

Kait Burgan (TV) - What you wear is important, obviously. You can google what works and what doesn’t. To reiterate Question 2, think of the camera and just one person – a loving and caring friend who wants you to totally rock it. We are our worst critics and no-one is being as hard on you, as you are mostly likely being on yourself.

Christina Waschko (TV & Blog) - For video, be aware of those subconscious gestures such as licking lips, wiping your nose, rubbing hands and nervous laughter. Stay away from clothing with bright colours, obvious logos or big stripes.  For print - you can ask for the general topics ahead of time so you can be mindful of what you want to share and stay within the time limits.
Luisa Marshall (TV & blog) - For my TV interviews - Take a moments to relax and to mentally prepare for difficult questions. Visual and audio are important, you need to look decent and speak clearly. As a host I always check the audio level. For my newspaper interview - I prefer email interviews. It saves time. Take time to answer each question thoughtfully. No pressure.

Randi Winter (Print) - It is always about WIIFM (What's In It For Me) which is always the reader or the listener... what is going to keep them reading/listening and want to find out more.

Miranda Sam (Online Magazine, Blog and Print) - Find out what the usual structure of the blog post or article looks like: Is it a short 5 Q&A or is the interviewer looking for something in-depth? Tailor your answers for length but don't feel restricted, the interviewer will usually edit your responses. If English isn't your first language, talk it through with your interviewer for clarity to make sure what you want to convey is accurate. More likely than not they will work with you to get a good quote. And if you're asked for an email interview but you're not the best writer, try to request a phone or in-person interview. After all, it's the interviewer's job to get what they need, whichever way works best for both parties.

Panelist links - 

Jennifer Swanson - author, educator, podcaster and founder of CommunicationDiva.com
Sara Troy - Owner, Operator, Host at Self Discovery Radio.com
Paul Mantello - Best Selling Author & Life Coach, founder Whole Life Success Show
Kait Burgan - Host/Producer Shaw Communications Inc
Christina Waschko - Videographer, Writer, Author, Host/Founder of Motherpreneur TV!
Luisa Marshall - TV Host/Producer, Artist, Writer, founder Simply The Best
Randi Winter - Specialist in and Journalist of Inspired Pursuits
Robbin Whachell - Publicist, writer, photo-journalist, co-founder/editor, TheBahamasWeekly.com
Miranda Sam - Editor StyleByFire.ca, freelance writer published in VITA, The Straight and BC Living (online)