Tag Archives: interview tips

9 Proven Ways to Lead a Difficult Interview to Success

Communication-skillsAll professional communicators have faced difficult interview subjects who can’t or won’t give you what you need.

Do you get tough with your questions like a reporter or a prosecutor?

Do you smile and nod and hope that you can somehow make sense of this later?

Do you walk away absolutely frustrated?

Consider, for example, a certain Subject Matter Expert. She’s a genius in her field and is somehow affiliated with your company. You and your team want to craft a multi-channel communications plan for her to use with audiences of, say, employees, media and investors. To do so, you need clarity and proper engagement from the expert, who doesn’t mean to be challenging, of course. She’s just not good at expressing her vision and she doesn’t understand why she frequently has to stop and explain things again.

Successful communicators are often the best listeners. They’re skilled at getting great thinkers to share those great thoughts, even those subjects who don’t want to or don’t know how to.

social-icons-01 Click to Tweet: How to help when interview subjects have trouble communicating.

Here’s how to help. Try these easy tips I’ve gathered from doing countless interviews, first as a news reporter with VIPs of all kinds, and later as a corporate communicator with business leaders, allies and staff members of every rank. If you can master this, you’ll be able to help all kinds of people share all kinds of information. So everybody wins, including you.

tm-pilbox.global.ssl.fastly.net1. Do your homework. Read everything you can about the person you’re interviewing. Read anything with his byline – even if he didn’t write it, he approved it. Watch all his videos. Also, talk to his associates if you can. Their insight can be invaluable.

2. Organize priorities. Get clear with the subject — and also with your boss or your team —  about the priorities for the interview, how much time you’ll have, and if this is a one-off or the first of a series. That way you’ll be sure to know what everyone needs the most and get it.

3. Show respect. Let the person indicate if he wants to chat for a few minutes or get right down to business. Don’t interrupt or contradict, but also don’t kiss up or try to impress.

4. Remind him why you’re talking to him. Chances are, someone has already told him, of course. But he’s busy and might’ve forgotten or confused you with someone else. Be succinct and clear about what you need.

5. Ask for clarity. If the expert or leader seems to contradict himself or something in your notes, ask for a clarification. “I’m sorry … I thought the plan called for X, rather than Y … I must be confused. Can you help me understand?” Remember: If you don’t get it, no one will.

social-icons-01Click to Tweet: Don’t be afraid to ask for clarity. If you don’t understand, no one will.

KeepCalm6. Keep it simple by asking and maybe even re-asking the basic questions. “I want to be clear for everyone: What problem does this new product solve? I believe it’s this, based on the research I’ve done… Is that correct?”

7. Mix it up. Ask a variety of open-ended questions (“How do you feel about how things are shaping up?”) and direct questions (“Are you satisfied with these results?”)

8. Get a few soundbites. Some experts and advocates know what you need and are happy to help. For the others, though, try a suggestion like this:  “So, would it be correct to say X-Y-Z…? I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but we need this to be short and clear.”

9. Wrap it up. Stick to the time allotted, unless the leader wants to extend. Thank him for his time and share your plans for review.

Now make it matter

Transcribe your notes and share with your supervisor and team. Plan a meeting to go over everything and suggest key nuggets for use – in, say, the annual report or next week’s newsletter. Fact-check anything you’re not sure about, or run it by legal before you distribute. Remember your internal approval process when crafting and executing the communications plan.

Do you need to suggest a follow-up interview? Make it a monthly thing? Should you send a videographer to the person’s next speech, to record some of his new-and-improved presentation for still more content uses?

In some cases, someone might decide to hire an outside expert to provide the person with intense media coaching. Or to assign much of the messaging to someone else.

But with the information and buy-in you’ve retrieved, the comms team will have what it needs — for clarity, relevance and accuracy.

And that’s really saying something.


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Listen Up! An Ex-Reporter Gives 12 Easy Ways to Get More Information from Anyone

49028697UPDATE: 9 More Interview Tips from Other Reporters

If you’re writing anything or telling any story, at some point you’ll need to talk to someone critical to the project, right? Even if it’s just while prepping a pitch or planning an agenda, anyone in business will have to conduct an interview for information, at least occasionally.

Having to ask questions can make people uncomfortable. So can talking to another person who knows more than we do, outranks us or has something we need, even if they want to share it.

But given that we all need to do it, we might as well learn how.

I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years, and regularly interviewed all kinds of people about all kinds of things. Outside the newsroom, I’ve met countless smart, charming, articulate people who freeze with nervousness before conducting an interview with a friendly colleague, client or executive — or make common mistakes that lead to missed opportunities.

Here are a few tricks anyone can try for more productive interviews at work, out in the world and maybe even at home. Remember, you’re probably walking into a conversation, not a confrontation.

1. Have an agenda. Know what you need for the meeting to be a success, and keep that goal in mind. Write it at the top of your notepad. That way, you can let the conversation be spontaneous and still always have a handy focal point.

2. Ask open-ended questions. They encourage people to talk rather than merely give an answer. Be sure to listen for surprises that warrant follow-up questions.

3. Ask follow-up questions. This is why email interviews are so stale, and why a real conversation is so much more fruitful than a questionnaire – even one delivered orally.

4. Ask direct questions. Sometimes, you need a fact confirmed, a yes/no response – or at least, an “I’ll get back to you on that.”

5. Make boundaries clear. Be transparent about your needs and deadlines, and what you’re willing to do next. Know your obligations and commitments.

6. Try it three times. If you’re not getting the kind of answer you need to a question, ask it again twice, in different ways. “What would you like to see happen before you commit any money to the project?” might get a different answer than, “Bill says he’ll commit 10 percent if you will.” Which might get a different answer than “Why are you letting another department get out front on this?”

7. Maintain normal eye contact. Smile when appropriate. Nod. You’re having a conversation, after all.

8. Say, “Go on” when you need more explanation, when you sense the other person wants to continue – or when you just need time to think.

9. Say, “I don’t understand – could you explain that again?” Remember, there is no stupid question. Better to ask and get it right than be embarrassed and get it wrong. Try saying, “Explain it to me like I’m a 6-year-old,” or “Tell me like you would tell your neighbor” – that is, high-level and free of jargon.

10. Stop talking. Do you feel awkward if a conversation goes quiet for a moment? Don’t. Be confident, let the silence linger and see what happens. It’s not a game of chicken. It’s giving the conversation some breathing room. Unless it is a game of chicken, and then it’s a great little tool.

11. Know when to wrap it up. Respect the appointment and the other person’s time, but give him or her a chance to keep it going a bit.

12. Finally: Ask if you can be in touch later if you think of another question or need to clarify something. Even if you don’t call again, the person will appreciate your openness.

UPDATE: 9 More Interview Tips from Other Reporters

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