It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer (or podcaster, or YouTuber, or…) in possession of expert questions, must be in want of an interview subject.
The challenge for most folks is finding those subjects.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction; whether you record a podcast or YouTube channel; whether you want background, knowledge, or quotes, it’s tricky. Creative professionals who work outside the office environment don’t often have the kind of job where they meet lots of new people all the time.
So where do you find that expert opinion to plumb for the voice you need to make your project perfect?
You follow this 4-step guide.
Ready? Let’s go find you some interviews!
1. Focus Your Needs
Determine, with as much detail as you can, exactly what kind of person you want to interview.
Go beyond subject and look into their views and talents. If you’re writing an opinion piece for your blog, you’ll want not just an expert, but an expert who either agrees with you, or disagrees in a way that serves as a foil.
If you’re interviewing on a podcast, you’ll want to avoid an interviewee with a poor speaking voice no matter how impressive the person’s credentials.
Top questions to ask yourself:
- Who has the best credentials to seem like a valid expert for my specific topic?
- Who has a particular focus and viewpoint which will make for the best interview?
- Which candidates are most talented at the medium I will use?
- Who do I read the most or otherwise consult even without interviewing?
2. Check with Your Personal Network
Start with the folks you know. Your personal friends, colleagues, teachers, students, peers, clients, and family.
These make for the best interviewees because the context of your relationship often leads to deeper answers and more considered conversation. This is especially important for live interviews, since a warm relationship shows through and makes for a better show.
Besides folks you speak with every day, remember these people are also part of your personal network:
- Every social media connection you’ve ever had
- Subscribers to your newsletter and blog
- Fellow members at service groups like Rotary or scouts
- Whoever runs any business you patronize
- Your exes
- Co-workers, clients, and vendors
3. Check with Your Extended Network
Your extended network consists of people you don’t know personally, but who know somebody in your personal network.
Maybe you don’t know the foremost expert in thermodynamics on the West Coast, but your old physics professor who you’re connected with on LinkedIn might. This is where professional publicity consultants get their mojo: the long list of people willing to introduce them to other people.
The list of potential sources for extended network referrals is the same as the list for your personal network. The only difference is you don’t ask anybody “What do you know about ______?” You ask “Who do you know who knows about ______?”
4. Use Online Resources
If your extended network doesn’t yield you the interviewee you want, it’s time to start cold-calling.
This process begins by checking online resources and databases which will connect you with people active in the field you want to write about. Those resources come in two varieties:
The first type of database is full of people who are actively looking to expand their brand name in a topic.
These are usually clearinghouses where you ask a question or ask for an interview, and interested parties contact you. HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is the most robust and useful of those platforms. Some others include:
The advantage of active resources is that you’re almost certain to get a source for whatever you ask about.
The disadvantage is that those resources are actively building their credentials. They’re likely to be qualified, but they won’t be as impressive as more established professionals.
The second type of resource involves listings of professionals established in their fields.
You use these by finding a name and contact information, then using that information to approach the person for an interview. Some of the better kinds of industry lead resources are:
- Faculty listings at universities
- Industry association contact guides
- Topic-oriented magazines (look at who’s writing and reach out to them)
The advantages and disadvantages of this kind of resources are a mirror image of your active resources. You’re more likely to get in touch with a highly regarded expert, but you’re less likely to get a timely response. These folks aren’t necessarily looking to give interviews, since they’re not as hungry for publicity as their younger colleagues.
All of the above will be much easier for you if you keep your social media platform strong.
In essence, good social media strategy makes your personal and extended networks more robust, which gives you a deeper base for referrals and gives you extra “star power” with online platforms and going for the gold.
Doing this right can fill an entire blog post or book on its own, but here’s a simple formula I recommend when I speak on this topic.
Every day, do three things on your primary social media platform. This should take only 20 minutes, and you should do it early in the day.
1. Repost an Article
First, post something you found online relevant to what you write on.
Since you’re already reading the blogs and news surrounding your topic, it’s just a matter of choosing from the cool stuff you’ve found that day. This establishes your feed as a place where interesting things consistently happen.
2. Boost a Follower
Second, share something one of your friends and followers posted, along with a complimentary and intelligent comment or question.
If you have fans (and we all have fans), make it a fan post as often as possible. This cements your fan base by showing them you notice what they do.
3. Engage with Influencers
Third, make an insightful comment or ask a compelling question on the feed of somebody above you in the food chain of your field.
Use this contact to develop a real relationship with the people you want to be like when you grow up, helping to elevate your status in your career and get you noticed by their fans.
I recommend doing this in the morning, then checking in once or twice in the afternoon to engage with whatever conversation has happened around what you did in the morning.
Make this a regular part of your daily routine, and when you need an interviewee on basically anything, you’ll either know somebody or know somebody who knows somebody. Every step of the process I described above will be easier.
The Most Effective Interview Strategies
Whether you’re giving or receiving an interview, a few basic best practices apply at least 90% of the time.
1. Show Up Knowing What You Want to Talk About
Never show up for, or give, an interview without knowing the agenda.
It doesn’t have to be a rehearsed dialogue — in fact, it shouldn’t be — but know as specifically as you can what the interview will be about. If you’re giving the interview, come with questions that ask what you want answered. If you’re getting interviewed, find out as much as you can about the specifics your interviewer wants to discuss, and make notes for those.
Some kindhearted interviewers will send their list of questions ahead of time to let the interviewee prepare as well as possible. If you’re conducting an interview, do that if you can — but don’t be afraid to let the conversation wander if it happens naturally. If you’re being interviewed, it’s okay to ask for the list or agenda.
2. Prepare for the Most Likely Questions and Answers
Even if you don’t get or give a prepared list of questions, you almost certainly have a good general notion of the sorts of things that will be said in the interview. Make a list of the questions or answers that are likely to show up, and prepare your responses in advance.
This isn’t cheating! Interviewers and interviewees at the professional level do this all the time. It’s how they sound smart when asked questions, and how they stay calm when an (apparently) unexpected answer comes out of a counterpart’s mouth.
3. Use Images When You Speak
Humans are visual creatures. We learn best and are most interested when we can see what we’re hearing about.
Of course, that’s not possible when you’re on a phone interview or a radio show/podcast, but you can still use visual imagery when you speak. As you’re preparing your questions and answers, think about how to phrase them in visual terms. That will make them shine for the audience, whether they’re listening live or simply reading excerpts of what was said.
This even applies to TV and vlog interviews. Although your smiling face is visible, you (probably) won’t have a lot of visual aids to help you get your point across. Pretend you’re on audio only when you choose your phrasing, to keep people engaged.
4. Don’t Use Numbers Twice in a Row
On the flip side of using imagery, you should avoid long strings of numbers and statistics.
Yes, they give weight and specificity to what you say. No, (almost) nobody remembers or cares about them. Follow a simple rule: only use one set of numbers in any given answer.
It’s okay to say, “Last year, 213 million tribbles were born out of wedlock.” People will hear that, realize how many tribbles caused the trouble, and remember it later on.
But if you say, “In 2017, 213 million tribbles were born out of wedlock,” folks will tune out. And don’t even think about saying “In the first and second quarters of 2017, 213 tribbles were born in a total of 174 starships in a 6-quadrant area.”
Note: it’s all right to use more than one number in a set of numbers — for example, “A tribble litter consists of between 24 and 48 individual pups.” But don’t bring in more numbers unless it’s absolutely necessary.
5. Use “Dinner Party” Speaking
This is simple to understand, but can be challenging to remember. Unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise, use the tone, language, body language, intonation, and general speaking style you would while at dinner with your boss, your spouse’s parents, or a similar group of people you want to impress but who you don’t have to be overly formal with.
A whole lot of tiny pieces of advice fit into this sphere. You can try to remember them all individually, or just use the “Dinner Party” rule and put yourself in that headspace each time you interview, and each time you practice for the interview.
This is less important if you’re giving an interview for somebody who will just write up a summary of your responses, but you should do it even under those circumstances. If nothing else, it lets you practice the right demeanor for when you are live.
6. Treat Each Question as a Separate Interview
Listen. Here’s a truth you’ll need to remember.
You are going to screw up in an interview. Whether you’re giving or getting, nervous or seasoned, sooner or later, you’re going to totally bork it on the air.
When that happens, treat the next question like the preceding disaster didn’t even happen. Do that with every single question in the interview. That helps you stay focused, fights fatigue, and keeps the interview itself digestible for you, for your partner, and for the audience.
It takes discipline to do this when you’ve just dropped the rhetorical ball, which is why you should do it with every question, every time. Once it’s second nature, you won’t have to focus on doing it under fire. It will have happened accidentally and automatically.
And for even more tips on interviewing and publicity, you’ve come to the right place!