How To Be The Greatest Interviewer In the World

by Andrew Kamphey

Five Traits Every Great Interviewer Has Developed

  1. Focus
  2. Determination
  3. Yearn to Discover
  4. A Great Story Crafter
  5. Keen Eye For A Good Story

Who are the greatest interviewers you know?

A few classically great interviewers that I know of. They are not necessarily the greatest speakers. They're not necessarily the smartest person in the room. There's a mixture of different skills here.

  • Oprah
  • Lesley Stahl
  • James Lipton
  • Howard Stern
  • Barbara Walters

At times these interviewers could be empathetic. At times some of these interviewers push buttons, pull a little too hard on certain threads. I'd also like to point out that some of these interviewers were very good at format. Meaning that they could fall back on some basic template of how an interview goes.

It's not just a conversation. It's not just getting to know another person. It's being present and forceful. All of these interviewers are forces of nature. They themselves command a room and when an interview subject joins it is a irresistible combination of energy.

3 Great Interviewers Online

Here are 2 of the three above speaking to each other, on a podcast episode of Indiehackers: Episode 161

Focus

To be a great interviewer or an interviewer at all you need to focus. The greatest interviewers are those who not only have focus but also pull Focus. Their ability to tune out the noise the distraction the rest of the world and focus on one person is a superpower. But it is a superpower that you can develop. The superpower you can actually attain. You can use technology too, But sometimes we need to just sit down and focus

Pulling focus is really the superpower here. The ability to give a reader who is reading this interview just enough context to understand what's going on and who this person is, and then dive deep into person world.

Live in the moment. Be present. Let your interviewee go on and on and on and on. Cut them take a break, stop, think, and say more.

A few phrases that are going to help you focus while you’re in the middle of an interview. - Tell me more about that - What does that mean? - How did you feel? - How does that work? - I’m not familiar with that, can you explain it? - I’ve heard that before, but what does it mean to you? - Then what happened?

Good skill to learn here is contextualization. What information should you deliver to the reader in order for the reader to have the proper context? meaning that the reader can read your interview with this person and understand it even if they don't know who that person is.

Have to say I haven't seen this very much online. So much of marketing of interviews include lessons learned, or quotes or “key takeaways”. I don't think these things are useful out of context. And I think they actually make the marketing weak.

Determination

You're going to need to be determined to get the interview. Get the story. Get through the story and give yourself time to crack the story. What you need is pure determination. You're going to need to want this. Sometimes you're going to need to need this. The best interviewers I've ever seen have been determined to get deeper. They want to know more. They want to know everything there is to know and are not afraid to ask.

They're also not afraid to follow up. Follow-up is a superpower you can attain. You can use pigeon to automate follow-ups. You can use pigeon to write very polite follow-ups. A follow-up doesn't need to just be “Hey, did you get my message.”

Follow-ups can include adding detail, adding context, asking for a little bit more. You are going to need to be determined to edit, to shape, to craft a good story.

You're going to need the determination to sit alone in a room and read. And then go get out of that room and publish your interview.

You're going to need the determination to get out in the world and tell people the story. The greatest interviewers are incredibly focused on getting the story and then also giving the story. Giving the story to the world as a gift. Giving the world this gift of a great story.

Interviewers are not afraid to push, pull, prod. They live in the moment. They focus. And they ask more. They're not afraid to dive deeper. They're not afraid to get more out of the interview subject. The more you get the more you can edit. The more you edit the better the story reads.

Yearn to Discover

Great interviewers want to discover. You've got to be a great Explorer. Someone who pursues the unknown. Go to great lengths to discover the unknown.

You're going to have to talk to people you don't know. You're going to have to talk to people you've never met before. You're going to have to talk to people that you don't know their story, you don't know their life experience. Having the want to know feeds the energy you have in front of your interviewee.

Interviewers are not just a clean, clear pipe from one person to the audience. Interviewers can't be a mere carrier of information. It's not conducive to a good media business. And it's just plain not interesting.

It's not interesting to merely be the vessel on which your interviewee rides to their destination which is your audience.

You can't merely hanker for a hook either. Thirst for just a really fun hook is not going to drive a good interview. Eagerness to get to the interview is going to be easier if you actually want to do the interview.

And it'll come across in your follow-up emails. You're not just asking for an interview to be done because you want to get it done. You need to want to get the interview done because you actually want to read it. You want to understand what they're going through. You want to edit it and polish it and craft it for your audience.

A Great Story Crafter

I've been interviewed by great interviewers and I can tell you that what I put out was not what they published. What this means is that to be a great interviewer is to be a great editor. I’ve seen this done by those three great interviewers I mentioned earlier. Pat Walls and Courtland Allan and Sam Parr.

Sam Parr crafts by taking existing stories and polishing them. He re-edits them. He knows the types of readers he has. He knows the type of person that will want to read the story and he'll understand the exact nugget of information that will get them excited to read. But that's not all.

Stories and interviews are not a series of great nuggets.

Interviews have twists and turns, good and bad, ups and downs, things that worked and things that didn't. Great drama is both comedy and tragedy.

Keen Eye For Great Stories

I’ve noticed this more and more on Twitter recently. Journalists internalize this skill, and those who are just starting out don’t have this skill built up yet.

The greatest interviewers know when there is a seed of a great story. Something will catch their eye. Something about the interview subject will stand out. And this is not only in words. This is not only just knowing a great story and then being able to retell that story. Because as I said before a great interviewer polishes, edits, and crafts a story.

In fact some of the best interviewers have had very little subject matter. I'll return to my prior statement that a great interviewer has focus and has the ability to focus on someone. And that's the ability to last through a lot of seemingly boring information. They'll be able to tell the difference between a great story and a regular story.

How To Become a Great Interviewer

I will turn to Ira Glass to explain how to develop this ability.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it's like there’s a gap. That for the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you.

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point - They quit.

Most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work, they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn't as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short.

Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you're going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you're going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions.

In my case, I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.

  • Ira Glass

As Ira says

  • Have Taste
  • Do a lot of work

Do a Lot of Interviews

Get out there and start interviewing anyone and everyone. Set a goal to publish one a week. Pigeon can help do the outreach, manage the written interviews in google docs and keep on schedule.

One neat trick is to set a deadline once a person agrees to do an interview. Right in your CRM, in your gmail. Make a field called “Publish Date” and every time someone says Yes, set it. Set it as the next week after the last one you set.

Your friend is going to be “Automated Followups” which Pigeon is perfectly designed to do.

Find more about Pigeon's features here: Email Sequences