I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.– Larry King
Information is useless if it is not applied to something important or if you will forget it before you have a chance to apply it.– Tim Ferriss
If you are reading this post, you either have a podcast or interview people in some format. You might already be a great interviewer, or a beginner, or anything in between. I hope this post will help you to fine-tune your interviewing approach. If not, keep looking until you find what you want. Interview is just a conversation and you can apply these principles in any conversation with a friend, family member, or anybody on this planet.
How do you create a great experience for yourself, guests, and the listeners?
I have tried to refine my approach since the first interview(In Jan 2020) leading up to 140+ interviews alone in 2020. I mostly have learned from Tim Ferriss and Larry King. There is no lack of information on how to interview the best in the world, or anybody. I have tried to learn from people whom I admire and follow the work as a die-hard fan. I will suggest you to do the same. Do what works for you. My goal from The Nishant Garg Show is — “enhancing skills and create deep relationships with guests”.
I have read the interview transcript of the Larry King interview on The Tim Ferriss Show dozens of times. The master interviewer Carl Fussman interviewed the Larry King. In this interview, there are some great points Larry King mentioned as part of his thousands of interviews. Listen to the full interview: Lessons from 50,000 Interviews: Larry King and Cal Fussman
Another awesome interview to listen to — Bestselling author Tim Ferriss on how to create a successful podcast.
Only Implementation will move you forward. Here you go!
Simple Question is the best:
Human tendency is to make things complex.
Sometimes interviewers want to ask the earth shaking and ground breaking questions — including me. For instance — question, “tell us about yourself?” seems a good legit question that has the potential of getting a good answer. I decided to ask this question in a different unique way — “how would your family describe what do you do for a living?” This question sounds funny and lightweight, and makes interviewees to think.
Adding your own style with simplicity is fun!
If you can get the guests to think, that is a good sign.
I asked Jill Bolte Taylor — “what do you do for fun?”. Very simple question! She responded — “Oh, my whole life is fun. The question is what do I do for work?”, and then there was a laughter. You can listen to the full interview: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Brain Scientist — Finding Balance between Right and Left Brain, Nine Second Rule, Stroke Of Insight, and More (#76)
I would rather choose the simple path first that gets me the best result possible. Hard is never out of the market.
I asked Kathy Caprino — “What do you want people to remember the most about you?” It might sound a simple question and it made her to think and there was a sigh of breathing. This interview is yet to publish.
Another good simple question — “what’s your meditation practice look like?” And, then a bunch of follow up question awaits.
Keep it simple, folks!
Giving Interviewees a great experience by asking about things, they perhaps never have been asked before
Your interviewees might have burned out with the same set of questions being asked in their lifetime. The more popular they are, the more exposure they have with the interviews.
I will explain you this principle by some interview examples on my podcast.
Example #1: Daniel Joseph Tomasulo is an American counseling psychologist, writer, and professor who teaches positive psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University in the Spirituality Mind Body Institute (SMBI) clinical psychology program.
He has decades of experience, and I was wondering — what topics and questions will hit the home run?
My style is to make it personalized. I asked him — if he is comfortable speaking about separation with his wife after 30 years. I also asked about his theater and screenplay experience.
In my experience so far, asking guests about things they are passionate about puts them at ease, and you as well. I do not recall any bad interview when they are comfortable and relaxed.
Example #2: Ariel Garten is a Canadian artist, scientist and intellectual known for her work in integrating art and science. Garten is co-founder (with Trevor Coleman) and Chief Evangelist Officer of Interaxon, a Canadian company specializing in software for Non-invasive Brain-computer interfaces.
I asked about her artist mom, her experience in fashion industry, Jewish holiday (Passover).
Why? Because, I wanted to learn about who Ariel is — and, the interview went really well.
Example #3: Dr. Christopher Willard (PsyD) is a psychologist and educational consultant based in Boston specializing in mindfulness. He has been practicing meditation for 20 years, and has led hundreds of workshops around the world, with invitations to more than two dozen countries.
In the preparation of this interview, I found that Chris has a passion for travel. I actually started the interview with his passion for travel, and then bunch of follow-up.
Lo and Behold! The interview was amazing and he mentioned he had a blast. This interview is the 4th highest downloaded episode in 2020. Full interview: Dr. Chris Willard on Raising Resilience, Travel, Growing Up Mindful, Meditation Retreats, and more
You get my point. You might be thinking — how do I get all this personal information? Do your homework. Check out their social media what they post. Check their website, books, and anything that helps you to prepare.
I personally feel very confident when I know I have done my homework and it reduces my performance anxiety.
Follow-up questions are very important:
Simple advice, yet hard to follow.
How can you ask follow-up questions if you are not actively listening and constantly thinking about your next question or topic?
Not thinking about your next question or topic can be dangerous and not actively listening can be dangerous too.
It comes with a lot of practice.
I keep my notes in front of me to navigate the conversation without completely relying on my memory. I remember throwing away my notes in my very third interview with Joe Johnson: Joe Johnson- On Happiness, Meditation, Books, Emotions! I was terrified. I was constantly reminding myself to be in the present moment and trust myself. In this case, I did not have any other option than to be in the present since I did not have notes.
Did it work? Yes!
However, I did not always want to take this chance and trust memory. I want to show my respect to guests by showing that I have done my homework.
What I have learned is that the fun is in the follow up that takes conversation to next level.
For instance, In my interview with Kirk parsley: Kirk Parsley, M.D. – Former Navy SEAL, Physician to the SEALs, and Sleep Optimization Expert, he was sharing about sleep cycles and routines. In the follow up question — I asked — “does everyone need same amount of sleep?”
Some good examples of follow up you can copy paste in almost any conversation:
- How did you feel in that event? (You can replace event with anything)
- What was your self-talk when you were going that experience?
Asking follow-up questions feels like an organic conversation, and hence every conversation tends to take different angles and sounds unique in its own way. I just do not know what question is going to be the next. If I am relaxed, it helps me in staying present and listen actively. Otherwise, my mind just goes on to different topics and questions.
To be present and ask good follow-up questions, make sure that your mind and body is relaxed. You can try some Breathing exercises, Meditation, Push ups, or anything that gets you relaxed.
Do not interrupt and let the silence work:
Do you remember interrupting a friend in a conversation when he could not think about what to say next?
We want to help others and interrupt with a new question or reframing the same question if there is a long pause. We all want to fill in the gaps. This might work in a casual conversation.
Interviewees are supposed to be intentional and structured, with a flexibility of natural flow.
Some interviewers have this constant commentary going on with words such as “yea, yeah, sure, of course, etc.,” when guests are speaking. I am guilty of this in my very few episodes. According to me, it does interrupt the guests. I occasionally use “hmmm…” just to indicate guests that I am listening when they are speaking for a while. I prefer audio-only interview without the video visual distraction. Therefore, occasional very limited “hmmm…” may work.
2-3 seconds in an interview seems eternal. Silence is beautiful. In the silence, they are thinking and searching their brain CPU to fetch the best possible answer.
“Do NOT interrupt, my friend!“
Let the silence work.
The Nishant Garg Show:
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