This is the second is series of articles on the Interview Lessons 5 kinds of interview: testimonial, conversational, curiosity-driven, journalistic, and story focused.
You'll hear conversational interviews most often on podcasts or talk shows. In a conversational interview, your audience is interested in hearing you and the guest interact. The goal is to build rapport, to think on your feet, and keep a good sense of balance between remarks, questions, and follow-ups. A great conversational style interview will be informative, entertaining, and thoughtful.
So how do you achieve great conversation?
Marc Maron, the host of WTF, invites guests to his home. He makes them tea, gets them comfortable, and sometimes even starts the recorder in advance to reduce the feeling of an artificial interview setting. He says "I still feel like they are conversations. I’m wary to call myself an interviewer."
It's Not Just About Listening
Listening's always important, but commenting and observing are also part of the art of a conversational interview. Another legendary conversational interviewer is Howard Stern. Like him or not, his audience loves him. Some have criticized him for interrupting guests, but his interviews are about that back and forth.
The art of Conversation
Joe Rogan, the host of one of the most popular podcasts there is, says that people “... are starved for an actual conversation.” His is a natural meandering style of interview that may take inspiration from the comedy improv idea of "yes and." He says "When someone comes along and expresses him or herself as freely as they think, people flock to it." He rarely challenges his guests but will jump in with his own stories on a topic.
Even though the conversational style interview is casual in nature, it requires more prep than other interview formats. To achieve real natural connection you need to know how to speak to your guest. Prep for this style interview is less about fact-checking and more about getting a feel for personality. According to The New York Times, Howard Stern spends days preparing for each interview "To prepare, he and a couple staffers will read and compile notes over the course of days. Mr. Stern might strategize for as long as a week, figuring out what he would want to hear if he were listening."
What to Ask
It all comes back to understanding your audience. In a conversational interview especially - rules are made to be broken. Still, in general, there are a few tactics to keep in mind. Start with a short open-ended question, use it to get a feel for your guest and let them find their rhythm. Your goal is to build connection and rapport, but don't be afraid to throw in something unexpected to keep the conversation fresh.
Who are your favorite conversational style interviewers?
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