I may have an unhappy day at home. Things may not go right. I can’t control – but when that light goes on, I control my environment. And then, how many people get to control their environment? So, when I hosted a radio show every night or television show every day or wrote a column, I controlled the question I would ask. I controlled my environment.
– Larry King
As of writing this post, I have interviewed 170+ amazing people who are experts in their own fields since the beginning of 2020. There are many ways to craft interviewing skill. I am not the one with natural talent of listening and curiosity. I really have to practice at it. Of course, you get better with the right practice with measurable outcomes.
To become better at asking good questions — you’ve to study this art, you’ve to study great interviewers. I specifically study Tim Ferriss’s work the way he asks questions on his podcast The Tim Ferriss Show. Cal Fussman is another Master interviewer and who can forget Larry King. Lately, I have been listening to Kathy Caprino’s podcast Finding Brave. Kathy’s energy is amazing and she brings elevated positive mood in the interviews. So, I’d say to you to find those interviewers whose energy and style match with yours.
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. Even if you’re not an interviewer, your ability to ask great questions will give a great advantage in your work, relationships and every where you interact with humans(may be with animals as well).
Here is the big question: “How do you create a great experience for yourself, guests, and the listeners?” I wrote the first part Lessons Learned From Tim Ferriss and Larry King To Interview The Best In The World which will give you more insights and understanding.
Only practice will move you forward. Here you go
1)Don’t be afraid to ask a stupid question:
I asked Kristen Manieri — “when you wake up in the morning , which app do you check first?” I was recording with Laura Bakosh in the morning and I asked her — “what did you have in the breakfast?” She responded — “nothing, she is on an intermittent fasting”..
I asked Marc Lesser that your book name is “Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader“ — “Can this book be used by someone who’s not a leader in any capacity if they want to learn to be mindful”? I asked Tal Ben-Shahar – “Do you consider yourself as introvert or extrovert?”
I ask questions I feel like to ask in the moment without judging anything. In the beginning, it used to be scary to ask such stupid questions. You can only ask stupid questions(or any good follow up question) if you are actively listening. You might think the question as being stupid, yet it might sound like a thought provoking question to the guest. You never know!
I am not going to lie — I was super nervous before the interview with Alisa Cohn. I wanted to start with a lightweight question and actually ended up asking, “How do you coach founders and cofounders in the startup world”? This is a great question and I think it still is a broad question to ask especially after hitting the record button. I try to start with a simple lightweight questions. To my surprise, Alisa liked this question and really enjoyed answering it. An example of a simple question example – “How would your family describe what do you do for a living”?
I remind myself to go with a curious mind because I can only control my questions and can’t control what guests may interpret. I asked Amy Coleman – “what kind of a doctor are you?”
So, folks, listen up, and then ask if you really want to ask. The worst case is If they(guests) don’t like it or you are not satisfied with the answer or you think it may not serve your audience – edit it out. Simple! No big deal!
2) Control the environment: “If you can control it, then do it. If you can’t, then let it go”. We all have heard of it.
In the interview, even though I am a passive driver, yet it’s up to me how I want to navigate the conversation. It’s a constant practice to be in the moment, actively listening, coming up with the follow up questions, and moving to another topic. I don’t have an innate talent for this and I have been able to practice this with 170+ guests(as of writing this post). Yes, asking good/great questions is a skill and can be cultivated.
I can try to control the interview by controlling the kind of questions I want to ask. It also depends a lot on my preparation. I spend a few hours going through the guest’s profiles including books, blogs, or anything they have done in their lifetime. Most of the time, I try to ask questions and cover topics I am personally excited about and want to learn. This is something I can control for sure. I can’t control what questions or topics my audience want to learn — unless they send me questions via email or social.
I remember this particular instance in my interview with Megan McDonough. She was explaining about the process of Living with EASE and then went on to explaining about her CORE values. I was actively listening and asked a follow up question: “How do you live your core value of love when you have a conflict with a member of your family”?
Every episode on the podcast sounds different because I try to be in the moment and not worrying about other things. If I come up with a great question, it’s in the moment. Tomorrow, I may not come up with good questions. Who knows! So, do your preparation, and then go with it. That’s what I tell myself every single time.
3) Don’t Judge yourself for anything: Do you ever feel scared to ask a deep personal question to a good friend? Sometimes, I do, and sometimes I don’t. If my intention is to learn about that person, I will ask deep questions — which requires vulnerability. It may not be easier to ask deep questions to people whom you may not know very well. You may think what if they get offended, and what if you might come across as interrogating them, etc. etc.
In an interview, the intention is clear that you will be asking questions. Simple! Asking questions is a craft. You won’t get it right if you haven’t practiced this skill before. You may not always get it right even when you have some or more experience. We all want to look good and are afraid of sounding stupid in front of others. But, that’s OK. If you go with a curious mind to learn about another person as a human being, you will feel less scared and you have less anxiety.
When I just started the podcast, I was not comfortable asking deep personal questions and in fact, I did not do in the first few episodes. Later on, I realized that my guests have been interviewed hundreds and thousands of times. I asked myself “How can I create a great emotional experience for them“? To create this experience, I had to go deeper which required active listening. I suggest you to practice listening in a way that you could ask a follow up question and still be able to navigate to other questions and topics. It’s going to take some time to get to this point. So, listen up, my friend and keep practicing.
Example: I asked Jill Bolte Taylor — “what do you do for fun?” This question may sound stupid, but I am coming from a place of curiosity.
I am in the moment. If I am not in the moment and just thinking about the next question, I might lose some good touch points. Every story brings tons of follow up questions and you can ask follow up questions with these keywords — “how did you feel in the situation X or when Y happened? What did you do…..? “HOW, WHAT, WHY”. I remember recording with Nicole Tetreault and she was discussing her deceased mother. I was in the moment and I asked – “what would you tell your mom if she is listening to this conversation”?
I don’t judge myself for any questions I ask. I try to analyze the interview later from a place of Compassionate Inquiry and not to beat myself up.
I remember two instances(very early in the podcasting) when I wasn’t sure how the interview went with Guy Kawasaki and Garrain Jones. I was analyzing too much. Perhaps I was unconsciously trying to judge the whole situation and later on I just told myself — “I did, what I did. I can’t change the outcome. I was in the moment. “
Some question might work great for one person and may not work for another. You can’t control that. You can only control yourself, you can only control your thinking and question. So never be afraid of asking stupid questions. You learn when you are curious. Be in the moment. Listen up!
4) Putting guests at ease before hitting the record: Psychological dynamics change when the record button is pressed. As Tim Ferriss says “you could interview a hundred people without a microphone and recording equipment, but as soon as you’re holding a mic, you’re hitting record, it’s being preserved, the psychological dynamics are different.” Check the full interview of Tim Ferriss and Cal Fussman here
I literally tell my guests that “there is no expectation from you. If you are not comfortable talking about anything, let’s not talk about it.” I also tell them if I ask a follow up question that makes you uncomfortable, you can pass it. This interview is editable. So, do not worry. I want you to feel relaxed and comfortable.”
5. You don’t have to know all the questions before the interview. Prepare for it, spend some time before the interview and think about what topics you might want to cover. I go with the intention of creating a master class that is timeless. This helps me in staying grounded and be present (mostly).
6) My style is getting concrete. Henna Inam was sharing about compassion practice. I asked a follow up question: “can you share any instance when you felt challenged to be compassionate?” Always try to ask for specific instances and examples . Some examples look like — “Could you give us an example of X”. “Would you mind giving an example that comes to your mind”?
7) Going with the mindset of I don’t know. I tend to ask questions which I don’t know and personally want to learn from guests. I can’t control and don’t always know what the audience wants. This mindset helps me to stay curious. I also let the guests know that “I am deep in the ignorance pool – please educate me.”
In the earlier days, one of the challenging interview was with Mickra Hamilton who’s a pioneer in the Epigenetics and human precision system. I didn’t know anything about the topic. I asked so many simple and dumb questions that luckily made the interview very well. Now, she and I are good friends.
And, the same thing happened in the interview with Inna Khazan on the topic of Biofeedback. I strongly feel that curiosity will always make the interview good, and in most cases — excellent. Another example is with the Raj Raghunathan. He was sharing the morning rituals, and when he shared about the breakfast banana shake — I asked him the recipe of the shake. My intention is to create a deep connection with the interviewees.
I hope this helps you! Happy Interviewing! If you’d like to get my help in your interview process, reach out to me!
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