This is a contributed post from our ProBlogger Subject Matter Expert Rachel Corbett.
Interviews can be a great source of content for your blog or podcast…provided they go well. If they don’t, they can have you rocking back and forth in the foetal position promising never to speak to another human being again.
Interviewing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them on Your Blog
Getting the most out of a guest is a real skill and it takes time to master, so if you’re thinking of adding interviews to your content mix here are a few common mistakes people make and how to avoid them.
The internet has given us stalking powers so great I can find out what my next-door neighbour ate for breakfast, so there’s no excuse for not being prepared for an interview.
As an interviewer it’s your job to be in control of the conversation and steer it in the direction of information that best serves your audience and the only way to do that is to know your stuff.
Being prepared will also help to put your guest onside. If they see you’ve done your homework, they’ll be more inclined to reward that effort with killer content.
Letting nerves take over
Cast your mind back to the worst first date you’ve ever been on and tap into that feeling of “get me the hell out of here.” That’s what a guest feels when they’re sitting across from someone who’s crapping themselves.
Nothing kills conversation like worrying if someone is about to have a heart attack. One way to combat nerves is to be extra prepared but if you’re sweating bullets out of admiration it’s important to remember your guest is just another human being. They might be exactly where you want to be, you might be desperate to impress them but the most impressive thing you can do is be cool.
Not conducting a pre-interview
Your ability to do this will depend on the schedule and profile of your guest. If you’ve scored 20 minutes with Seth Godin you can probably trust he’s done this enough times to nail it without much preparation. There’s also enough interviews and information out there for you to be fully prepared without speaking to him beforehand.
But if you’re interviewing someone whose story you’re not familiar with, it’s always a good idea to conduct a pre-interview. This allows you to work out where your guest can provide real value, what they’re most passionate about and what stories will resonate with your audience.
Doing this groundwork means you can get straight to the important stuff the minute the real interview starts. Just be mindful not to do the entire interview in the pre-interview. When the time comes you want to be genuinely reacting to your guest’s stories, not fake laughing because you’ve already heard all their best gags.
Not recording the interview (if you’re writing a blog post or article)
You should always think of your relationship with each guest as ongoing, because you never know when you might want to interview them in the future. Even if you never see them again it’s always best to try and make the experience as valuable for them as it is for you.
One way to ensure they rue the day they ever pressed reply to your email is to misquote them. Even if you have the typing speed of a 1950s secretary it’s impossible to take accurate notes and be present in the conversation at the same time.
So if you record your chat, it means you can focus 100% of your attention on your guest. Plus, when it comes time to write things up you can quote them directly rather than piecing together something from hastily scribbled notes.
Just make sure you let them know you’re recording and assure them it won’t be used for anything else. And if you say that, keep your word, because using their audio without permission is a douche move.
Not wearing headphones (for podcast interviews)
If you make this mistake once you’ll never make it again, so for the love of all things holy, please wear headphones.
This is especially important when you have a guest. If you’re on your own and stuff up the recording it’s only you who has to suck it up and record again but rescheduling a guest is not only difficult, it’s unprofessional.
If you don’t have much experience with audio, trust me when I say microphones pick up sounds you’d never notice in the moment. If you’re recording a guest outside, you won’t hear the wind noise until you sit down to edit and it sounds like you’ve recorded from the deck of a boat sailing through the Roaring Forties.
This is the biggest no no of all. Not only is it rude, it’s a sure fire way to miss something really interesting.
If your guest says “….I once killed a man” and you say, “so how did you grow your email list?” when you listen back to that audio you’ll be screaming at yourself for not paying attention.
People say all sorts of unexpected things in the moment and you have to be prepared to throw your questions out the window and follow the most interesting story line. If it dries up you can always go back to where you thought you were headed but don’t miss out on gold because you’re distracted.
Turn up that hearing aid and get your head out of your questions.
Obsessing over what you’ve prepared
You should always walk into the interview prepared but your list of questions isn’t going to burst into flames if you don’t constantly look at it.
Listen, be present and know there’s nothing wrong with pausing for a second after your guest has finished their answer to look at what you’re asking next. A guest will always be more open if it seems like you’re interested in what they have to say and the only way to make them feel that way is by looking at them.
A good trick here is to cross out your questions as you go so when you look down at the page it only takes a split second to locate your next one.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who can make reading off a piece of paper sound natural so let’s all hold hands, look each other in the eye and promise we’ll never do it.
When you go into an interview you should be prepped enough to know what you want to ask, so rather than writing questions word for word, go in there armed with short bullet points.
If you look down and see “email subscribers,” “worst speaking gig,” “podcasting tips” you’ll know exactly what you want to ask and you’ll engage your guest much more by putting it in your own words. Plus, you won’t get half way through and say “sorry, I can’t read my writing.” Kill me.
Asking a question in 20 seconds that could have taken two
The voice you want to hear most of in an interview is your guest’s and when you’re in the moment or nervous it’s easy to get caught up trying to over explain things.
If you have a tendency to babble be extra mindful of this and realise there are very few occasions where you can’t ask a question in less than ten words.
So go forth, future Michael Parkinsons, and interview the pants off your future guests (not literally). Remember – be prepared, put extra batteries in your hearing aid and most importantly, have fun.
Rachel Corbett is a writer, radio & TV presenter, podcaster and teacher who helps people create better content. She’s conducted hundreds of interviews with celebrities, politicians and everyone in between.