An interview format should be firmly fixed in your mind before you attempt such a specialized endeavor. Writing out your questions and program ahead of time saves embarrassment.
This page is presented in two sections.
In Part One, we’ll discuss requirements from the perspective of the person asking the questions.
Part Two, will be from the viewpoint of the person being interviewed.
While both share a lot in common, make no mistake about what’s expected of each.
This entire format can be a lot of fun. With few exceptions, you will want to keep your exchanges lively and interesting.
Maybe however, knowing whom you plan to interview will trigger great original questions. Spend time writing them out as they pop into your mind.
You as Interviewer
When you wish to conduct an interview, certain interview format rules apply.
Seldom would you interview a person whom you find distasteful in any way. Should you find yourself in a position and must interview someone who whom you clash; use the experience as a challenge to make you a better interviewer.
Here are some interview format tips that you should practice and be comfortable with before you attempt to question anyone.
Writing. Always spend some time writing thought-provoking questions when planning your interview format. You will know about the person whom you wish to interview. That will make writing the proper questions easier.
Intuit. When you know whom you will interview, in preparing your questions, try to intuit what kind of answers you may hear. This will help you refrain from asking questions with broad answers.
Dress the part. No matter whom you interview, look professional. This is a vital part of the interview format, and seems, at times, erroneously ignored.
If you’re going to interview a farmer in the middle of a cornfield, you might want to wear denims and boots or sneakers.
If you’re interviewing a professional who’s just closed a multi-million dollar deal, wear a suit. Make it an expensive suit – even if they happen to be a slouch.
Chances are, on a video interview, most of what will be filmed of either of you are headshots or from the waist up, especially if you’re sitting at a desk or table.
When taping interviews for TV and other public consumption, if you have no idea about dress code, look at other interviews. What are people wearing when they interview for the public?
In today’s world of fashion where anything goes, the person doing the interview still needs to look like the person in charge. For public viewing, dress the part – from head to toe.
Relax. Your interview will start off well if you are relaxed. If this is your first time, interview format requires you practice in some manner. When no one's around to help, practice in front of a mirror.
Practice. It makes all the difference in the world. To attempt an interview without having first practiced is to assure negative results.
Do you speak too fast? It’s a sign of nervousness. Speak slower and watch yourself in the mirror to also notice gestures.
Get enthused. If you’re talking about a subject and feel great enthusiasm, by all means, get excited, but not totally animated. Excitement should come through in your voice.
Your attitude about the interview topic and how you present yourself helps the interviewee relax as well.
Distractions. Please, please! Do not speak with your hands moving in front of your face.
Keep hand gestures to a minimum.
To keep their hands occupied, some interviewers hold something, their notes, or a sheet of paper, depending on the situation and setting where everything takes place.
In one of my first interviews, it was conducted where it was okay to drink from a cup. I wouldn’t be taking a sip every ten seconds, but it helped to know I had something to do with my hands.
Do not memorize. When remembering all that you want to ask, do not memorize your interview format word for word. You’ll be carrying on a conversation. It can take twists and turns.
If you’ve memorized your questions, you could be expecting certain answers. When you don’t get the answer you want, you will become confused if your next question doesn’t fit where the conversation is going. Your plans, your entire interview format falls apart.
Sometimes the person being interviewed will inadvertently keep the conversation moving in a new direction. You would then need to verbalize a stronger, more pointed reminder of the topic of conversation.
Correct your language. In your day-to-day language, practice using positive words. The day-to-day language of most people may not be suitable for interviewing. Your questions and resultant conversation need to be polished.
If any word in your vocabulary has a negative or all-too-ordinary connotation, replace it with a more upbeat word or phrase.
The person conducting the interview especially, and at all cost, needs to avoid filler words like “uh” or “uhm” even if the person being interviewed uses them.
These sounds are very annoying in any conversation.
Filler sounds can cause your subject to fidget and become irritable. They are being interviewed and want it conducted by someone with a good command of the language and interview format.
Not only did I pause, but also my index finger against the lips was like asking for just a second or two to bring my thoughts together.
I don’t recommend you do anything like this because I know from experience that I can get caught up in my thoughts and delay too long. However, it was quite natural on my part, not something I conjured, and that also came through.
I also learned to stop making that gesture, at least in interviews.
Help your subject relax. I once interviewed a man about his hobby. He claimed his life was mundane. He had never been the focal point of attention and now found himself in some limelight. He was uneasy. I interviewed him because I had an interest in his hobby.
He collected them from wherever he traveled over the world. His yard was full of them and he knew the type and history of every one. People thought him a little too weird, eccentric.
In order to get him to relax, I told him of my own experience of rock collecting for my flowerbeds. Knowing time constraints were important, all I said was:
Instantly, the man’s eyes sparkled. He relaxed and out poured a wealth of information that could fill a book of memoirs!
Needless to say, it was I who needed to keep the conversation on track. But using prepared questions like a script to follow?
Selling. When you interview someone who has a product to sell, avoid letting the interview sound like a TV promotional.
Ask carefully selected questions to bring out your subject’s life, not family history and such, unless invention runs in their family. Bring out their creative qualities. Make this very brief.
Ask about how your subject developed their idea(s). Make this brief too. All you want is a taste of background information.
Turn the conversation into a winning interview format that tells how the public would benefit from your subject’s product(s). Always, always, keep the target audience in focus. The general public may not be interested in a hard-sell commercial type interview.
The public wants to know HOW THE PRODUCT WILL HELP THEM. That’s your focus. That’s what helps you plan the proper interview questions.
Doesn’t matter if the person has created a new incredible household product, built a new tractor, or written a book, you must focus on the public good, what it will do for others.
Unanswered questions. When your subject can’t seem to answer a question you present, reword the question immediately.
Do not allow the interviewee to become embarrassed at having no answers. Embarrassment may cause them to close up to further conversation. Simply re-phrase or move on to the next question.
Listen. One of the most important pieces of advice for anyone conducting an interview: Listen.
If your senses, especially your ears, are tuned to your subject, you will know when they have difficulty answering questions. A reason exists why some questions aren’t answered or are avoided. Listen. And move on.
Maintain eye contact. Stay focused by looking into your subject’s eyes.
No need exists to look around at other things or people unless you’re in front of an audience. Then you may look out to them at times when their reaction calls for a response from you. Share their enthusiasm, but always re-focus on your subject.
Smile. Keep the conversation going by being relaxed, yet in control. Smile. The person being interviewed will relax and bring forth a wealth of information. After all, that was the purpose of the interview.
An Interview Experience
Here’s an experience I had that might help you understand a bit of the interviewing process from both sides. This overall experience pulled two people together and made the interview format work.
Since it was on radio, I decided to wear a pants suit. It wasn’t a designer suit since no one would see me, but I wanted to look professional among these public media people.
About an hour before going on the air, I sat in a coffee shop where the emcee said we would meet. When she arrived, she wore clothes that looked like she had just stepped out of her garden and would go back to it when we were done.
She noticed that I eyed her clothing. She said, “Oh, this is radio. No one sees.”
After we settled in at our table, she said she would read her interview questions and asked for my input.
Wow, I had that much leeway in an interview?
She quickly read her list, writing a few more questions at the bottom. She hadn’t yet finished her list. She gave me tips, saying this was what she hoped to accomplished for me through her interview format.
To her surprise, I suggested a couple other questions. We discussed my responses. She needed to know what I might say so she could keep the interview on track.
Inside the station, I noticed that everyone dressed down.
Finally on the air, I was interviewed with her assistant present. Several times, when she asked me questions, the assistant would pop in with the responses. We still hadn’t had anyone call the station to participate with his or her interest.
Then, the interviewer began her questions by saying, “Okay, Mary, tell me how….”
The assistant took the hint and the rest of the interview format came together and people began to call in. By the end of the interview all the phone lights were blinking.
Given the interview could have been taken over by the assistant, my interviewer knew her format and how to hold things together.
When the show was over, the producer walked in. He said, “What an exciting show you made for us today.” He took note of the way I was dressed. Then he said, “Too bad this wasn’t TV.”
I’m glad I paid attention to what I wore. I stayed in the clouds for a long time after that.
You As Interview Subject
So much of the same interview format in the first part of this page applies also to the person being interviewed.
Relax. When people know they will be interviewed, they tense.
That should be the attitude with which you approach being interviewed. After all, you haven’t become this person who is sought after, knowing that when it finally happened, you would shrink away.
Clothing. Since you are the one being interviewed, you should determine what to wear according to the circumstance.
Will you be...
In a recording studio? Again, casual, but professional.
On TV? Dress, dress, dress, accordingly.
In any live public forum? Dress, dress, dress.
Anytime you are in the public eye and the focus of attention, if you’re trying to sell your product or ideas, you need to look successful.
Language. See the above sections and make sure you do not make the same mistakes.
If you’re being interviewed, chances are it’s because you’ve been a success at something. Look successful. Act successful. Talk the talk.
Before the Interview. If you’ve been approached to review the interview format prior to the actual interview taking place, by all means do.
Getting together before the interview should be only for the purpose of knowing what to expect and to help things move smoothly.
Some interview format does not allow time to get together beforehand. Certainly, your responses will be more spontaneous if you do no know the questions ahead of time.
Be your true self. Whatever happens, be true to yourself and what you stand for. This is your chance to tell the world – or your corner of it – who you are and what you’ve accomplished.
What you say. No need exists for you to practice how you might respond to any questions. Trust that if you know your product or service, whatever information the interviewer wishes to elicit will come forth from you in such a way as to excite ay audience.
Brief responses. When ask a question that seems to require a broad response, it’s okay for you to reply with a question to clarify.
You might want to ask,” Do you mean how many times did I have to try before I finally got it right?”
Tell some history. It’s okay to inject a couple of stories into your responses. Sometimes a sentence or two can help people to understand how you did something and why.
Just remember to keep it BRIEF and it won't upset the entire interview format that has been planned.
Listen. Always remember to listen to the interviewer.
Even if you’ve seen the questions and gone over the interview format ahead of time, you never know when new questions will be asked. And it will happen, depending on the course the conversation takes.
If you’re interested in conducting interviews, above all, relax in what you’re doing. Spend time writing your questions ahead of time. You will help yourself concentrate and carry out your interview format.
Be prepared with your list of interview questions. But know that even those will change with each interview. Know your interview format, and what might be expected of you, well ahead of time.
When you’re the person being interviewed, see it as an opportunity to get yourself, or your product or service recognized. Present yourself in a professional manner. Be grateful for the opportunity.
If you have a chance to learn the interview format, or to view or hear the interview questions ahead of time, though it’s not necessary, you’ll be better prepared with an idea of how things will go.
Interviews need to skimp on information in order to make a point in a limited amount of time.
Allow just enough into the conversation to snag the listener or viewer’s attention. They will seek out more information afterwards if the information seemed credible.
Most of all, from either perspective, the one aspect of any interview format that I tend to stress is “have fun.”