Develop a Winning Interview Style Using These Tips

Develop a Winning Interview Style Using These Tips

One Writer’s Secrets for Creating Successful Thought Leadership Content. Hint: it All Starts with the Interview

In an age of influencers, thought leadership has become a critical part of every marketer’s toolbox. We’ve covered the topic in depth in previous posts, including its benefits, building a team to create thought leadership content and a few strategies for deploying the end product. But if you’re behind the scenes, ghostwriting someone else’s thought leadership content, you’re tasked with accurately capturing their ideas while transforming them into something compelling.

Thought leadership content can take many forms, like podcast appearances, media interviews or keynote presentations at industry conferences. I work most frequently on written thought leadership, which includes blog posts published on a company’s website or articles appearing in third-party publications like magazines, newspapers or other websites. So, my job involves interviewing thought leaders on a given topic and turning what I learn into something that editors and readers will find interesting and insightful. 

The interview is at the center of this process, so nailing that conversation is critical. I didn’t go to J-school, so I’ve had to develop my own process over the years. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.


Establish the Topic Early

If you begin a thought leadership interview by saying, “what do you want to talk about today,” you’re already playing from behind. Thought leaders are typically executives and business leaders who are carving time from their busy schedules to speak with you. You can return that favor by providing a specific topic when you schedule the interview. Establishing a clear and direct topic upfront allows you to use limited time more efficiently. It also gives you an opportunity to develop more interesting questions and offers your interviewee time to organize their thoughts.

These topics can come from anywhere. Keyword research is often an excellent place to begin brainstorming. Consulting the client by holding separate brainstorming sessions can also be beneficial. Your subject will understand what’s happening in their industry and may have topics they’re already passionate about and excited to discuss. If you’re using a content calendar (and you really should be), plot your topics out as far in advance as possible to give yourself plenty of time to prepare.

Quick Tip: I like to include the article topic in my calendar invitations to provide my interview partner with an additional prompt before our conversation.


Pick Your Interview Format

Another important consideration is the format your interview will follow. I will always opt for a phone interview primarily because it allows me to focus on listening during the conversation and taking thorough notes. By contrast, I find video interviews distracting because I’m forced to divide my attention between my notes, the conversation, and maintaining eye contact. Of course, you could always record your video interview if your subject agrees and focus your attention solely on the conversation. The downside here is that you’ll have to re-review the discussion, which adds additional time to the process. 

My least favorite type of interview is the written Q&A. Not only does this format require more upfront work, but it also makes follow-up questions tremendously difficult, which is where I believe the real magic happens in these conversations. Also, choosing a Q&A format can dramatically extend the interview timeline because it could take several days or even weeks for your subject to respond. So, to achieve the best results possible, I recommend scheduling a live phone interview whenever you have that opportunity. 

Quick Tip: I include a note in every calendar invite saying, “Josh will call you at [phone number] when it’s time for our interview. This eliminates the awkward question of who is calling who. 


Prepare for the Interview

Once you’ve established a topic, agreed on an interview format and scheduled a time to talk, the interview prep process begins. Depending on the topic, you may need to do your own research to start developing questions. If you’ve opted for a Q&A format, this is where you’ll do the bulk of your work. Your questions will need to be precise and crystal clear because you may not be able to ask for clarifying information. You also can’t send a list of 25 questions and expect to receive quality answers. Instead, prioritize your content by setting a ten-question limit and ask them as succinctly as possible.

In-person interviews don’t require such intense preparation. I typically establish five or six broad questions before the conversation and then use follow-up questions to discover more interesting and specific information. Sometimes outlining what I don’t know about a topic and turning them into questions is an excellent jumping-off point for an interview. Of course, if you’ve provided your interview subject with the topic beforehand, they will hopefully come prepared with things to discuss.

Quick Tip: I organize my questions as headings in my note document in an order I think flows most naturally. However, I don’t hesitate to veer from that order if it seems appropriate.


Have a Conversation

I always approach in-person interviews as a friendly conversation between peers. If you’re lucky, your interview subject will be comfortable, gregarious and eager to share what they know. If that’s the case, I allow them to lead the conversation and only interject with follow-up questions or to redirect if they stray off topic. 

It’s not uncommon to encounter people who’ve never participated in an interview and doubt their knowledge or ability to be interesting. Here, you’ll have to play a more active role in the conversation until you can establish a rapport with the other person and they gain a little confidence. 

Occasionally, you’ll come across someone who only provides short answers to questions and cannot elaborate or expand on the material you’ve brought to the interview. In these cases, you’ll have to do much more prodding to get the content you’ll need. I’ll often ask the same question in a few different ways in hopes of uncovering new facets of information. 

No matter what type of person you talk with, expressing your eagerness and enthusiasm for the topic and your interview partner’s knowledge — either directly or through your questioning — is the best way to get your interviewee excited to share what they know.

Quick Tip: I end every interview by saying, “are there any questions I should have asked that I didn’t?” Sometimes the best material comes out of these moments.


Allow for Follow-Up & Approval

Once you’ve exhausted your questions or reached the end of your interview time, you should ask for an opportunity to follow up with your subject if you have additional questions or need clarification. No matter how perfect your notes may seem, you’re bound to run across something that doesn’t make sense during a re-read or a concept you thought you understood at the moment but then becomes confusing again. In most cases, follow-up questions work well over email. 

It’s also best practice to allow your interview subject to review the finished piece before sending it out for publication. Whatever you produce will be published under someone else’s name, so they need to be willing to stand behind whatever goes out to the public. 

Quick Tip: When you do send the final draft out for review, add some urgency to the process by including a specific date for when you need it returned. 


An Interview is a Partnership

Ultimately, the process of interviewing and writing these pieces should be a partnership between you and your thought leaders. After all, you both bring specific knowledge and skills to the table. The interviewer is the facilitator who draws information they don’t possess from their subject and turns it into concrete collateral. By contrast, the interviewee has valuable knowledge that others want and need but doesn’t have the time or ability to turn it into a consumable form. 

The interview is the point where these two participants meet and collaborate to create something neither of them could make on their own. If you, as the interviewer, can enter these conversations fully prepared, with curiosity and an open mind, you’ll be ready to make the most of these opportunities.

Bring Order to Chaos with a Blog Content Calendar

Bring Order to Chaos with a Blog Content Calendar

There’s no scarier moment for a writer than staring at a blank page, wondering what you’re going to type first. That terror grows even more pronounced when you’re writing on a deadline for a paying client. While some people might thrive on that adrenaline hit, I just get a stomach ache, so I prefer to have a plan in place before opening my laptop.

Creating a content calendar is one of the best ways to bring order to the chaotic world of blogging, particularly with ongoing clients. When used correctly, these documents become a guidepost that will help you develop specific topics that are more strategic, impactful and interesting than anything you could write off the cuff. Here’s how.

Bring Order to Chaos with a Blog Content Calendar

Five Tips for Building a Content Calendar

An effective content calendar offers multiple perspectives at the same time. The macro view should enable you to look months or even years into the future while also providing specific directions for your next post at the micro-level. Your calendar should also be a constantly evolving document open to collaboration between your teammates and the client. But before we get too far down the road, let’s start by deciding where your calendar will live.


1. Pick Your Organization Tools

There are endless content management tools you can use to house your calendar, and I’m not here to tell you that one is inherently better than another. What matters most is finding a tool that every stakeholder will use. I prefer a shareable spreadsheet for long-term planning and collaboration. But I also use project management tools to keep assets, research and important dates for individual posts all in the same place. Your tools lay the foundation for your organization, so choose wisely.


2. Establish a Blogging Cadence

Once you’ve picked your tracking tools, it’s time to establish a blogging cadence. If, for example, you decide to publish twice a month, you know you’ll need to come up with 24 topics to fill out a year. In many cases, your marketing strategy or available budget will dictate your cadence, and at other times, your available resources might limit your production capacity. Either way, once you’ve established your posting frequency, you can begin developing individual topics. 


3. Track Events, Observances & Holidays

Every business has its own rhythms, milestones and cycles that can potentially offer blog topic inspiration. Obvious examples are tax season for accountants or Black Friday for retailers. During onboarding, you should ask about these inflection points, note them in your calendar, and then create content that supports the larger goals related to that event. 

Annual observances can also be an excellent source of content. If you’re blogging for a client in the healthcare industry, then National Nurses Day on May 6th might be interesting. You could create content for plumbers around National Skilled Trades Day on the first Wednesday of May or use National Eat Your Vegetables Day on June 17th to promote a Farmer’s Market.

The same principle applies to national holidays. The key is to marry your content calendar with the actual calendar to develop relevant content pegs and inspiration. 


4. Use Keywords for Inspiration

Many larger marketing teams include a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist who uses Google advertising tools to target particular keywords in online search terms. These keywords are a goldmine for bloggers who can use them to develop content that’s relevant to customers and helps boost a website’s search position. Even if you don’t have a dedicated SEO specialist on your team, there are plenty of online resources that will help you develop your own keyword lists. Any blogger worth their stripes can turn “best blue sneaker” into something interesting.


5. Consult the Client

Your clients will always be the experts on their business and their industry. But too often, clients don’t know what they know. Or, more specifically, they don’t see the value in what they know. That’s why it’s important to bring them into content brainstorming sessions whenever possible. It may take some coaxing and coaching, but they have a wealth of knowledge to make the content you produce more authentic and valuable for the end-user. Including the client also draws them in to the process, making them more invested in the outcome.


Plan Better to Create Better

With a content calendar in hand, writing doesn’t have to be a white-knuckle affair. Instead, whenever you open your laptop and face down the empty page, you’ll be armed with a relevant topic that meets a strategic goal. At the same time, you’ll be able to work ahead by assembling the assets you’ll need for future topics before you start writing. You’ve now created the framework to produce higher-quality content that packs a bigger punch — all with fewer stomach aches.

How to Battle Writer’s Block, Tips from Amy

How to Battle Writer’s Block, Tips from Amy

Examining the Top 3 Mistakes Writers Make

For the first time in quite a while I’ve been dealing with dreaded writer’s block. Getting my jumble of thoughts down on the page, whether for work or pleasure, has never been a problem for me. Many in the marketing industry would consider this a luxury.

With the launch of our newsletter a few months ago, I was supposed to have a blog post ready to go last week. But last week was different in every aspect. The tumultuous (and I must say disappointing) election results, paired with a new puppy and a back injury really had my head spinning. None of these are good excuses because we work off an editorial calendar assigning various content topics to the team. Editorial calendars ensure our topics touch on popular trends, current events and news updates so that all readers can relate.

In trudging through this page, I’ve examined what went wrong last week, contributing to my lack of inspiration:


Mistake #1: Failing to Review Editorial Calendar or Other Inspiring Material.

I’m not even sure if our calendar followed suit by incorporating election coverage because here’s the thing — I didn’t look at it. I knew the blog post needed to align with the election so why even take the time to review the calendar? I am a rule breaker and that’s what keeps me creative, right? Wrong. Its a lame excuse for being lazy.

Opening a list of ideas to write about is never a bad thing. Same with reviewing inspiring material frequently. Great work — whether in the form of literature, blog or podcast — is meant to get your wheels in motion, your head spinning, your ideas flowing. Consume it at all costs!


Mistake #2: Having Unrealistic Expectations.

I guess I did represent a confused flurry of un-channeled thoughts last week (which democrat didn’t?). But I was placing too much importance on my ideas, believing I had to write the most monumental thing in the most monumental way. Who do I think I am, Maya Angelo?

When you start to feel your heart racing and hands sweating, pondering how well your words will be digested, it’s a cue to get over yourself. Fire that highly narcissistic stage manager mother who has been directing the show inside your head. The stakes might be higher for some, but in my case I know that only 3 people are reading my work anyways!


Mistake #3: Requiring Perfect Prose.

Timid writers need to simply get their words out on the page. Editing while writing is a very bad habit that needs to be broken immediately. Realize that nothing is perfect, especially first drafts! The hardest part is simply getting going, but once a solid stream of consciousness emerges its hard to turn it off. Get it all out on the page (this is the magical act of real writing) and worry about how it reads later (this is the fine-tuning, and still brilliant work, of editing). It’s much less intimidating to open up a full page that still needs hours of work than sit down in front of a blank screen.

In summary, we all have hard days, hard months, even hard lives. Pausing long enough to nurture ourselves through pain and then setting our fears aside, not overthinking our role and getting straight to work will bring new opportunities. Art, growth, success — all emerge from an original place of suffering which brings the writer her most successful currency in words.

Featured image by Florian Klauer via Unsplash