How To Be A Better Interviewer (Part Two)

Many of our trainees moderate panel discussions or host podcasts, so they’re usually eager to become better interviewers.

In part one of this series yesterday, Katie Couric shared five tips to help you become a better interviewer.

In part two today, I’ll offer you an additional five tips to up your game as an interviewer.


Use these techniques the next time you moderate a panel discussion.


1. Don’t Give Questions to Your Interviewee in Advance: Doing so often leads to an interviewee over-preparing. Plus, a good interview consists of many unplanned follow-up questions that react to the interviewee’s answers. Instead of sharing questions, just give the interviewee a broad sense of the interview topic.

2.  An Interview Should Sound Like a Conversation: A good interview sounds like an informal chat. If it sounds like the interviewer is reading off a list of pre-planned questions, the interview will sound stilted. By listening closely and asking thoughtful follow-ups based on the interviewee’s answers, you can remove some of the unhelpful formality from the interview.

3. Remember That Your Guest (Not You) Is The Star: John Sawatsky made his name as one of Canada’s top investigative reporters. The American Journalism Review captured his views on interviewing as follows: “The best questions are like clean windows. A clean window gives a perfect view. When we ask a question, we want to get a window into the source. When you put values in your questions, it’s like putting dirt on the window. It obscures the view of the lake beyond. People shouldn’t notice the question in an interview, just like they shouldn’t notice the window. They should be looking at the lake.”

4. Shut Up: Writer Matthew Stibbe offers this blunt advice: “Shut up! Talk 10-20 percent of the time, at most. Listen hard….Interviews aren’t scripted Q&A’s – they are intense professional conversations, and you need to concentrate.”

5. Play Back a Key Word or Phrase: Great interviewers listen carefully to what interviewees say, and often play a key word or phrase back to glean more information.

HOST: “What do you think about President Obama’s performance in office?”

GUEST: “Well, he can be a bit too cautious at times.”

HOST: “What do you mean, cautious?”

One of my favorite interviewers is PBS host Charlie Rose, who always expresses a sense of excitement about his guests. In the below clip from 1995, Mr. Rose plays back a few words to the late writer Michael Crichton.

Tune in tomorrow for the final part of the series, which will offer you an interviewing exercise you can practice with your friends and family – without them even knowing it!

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Click here to read part three of this series.