Remember, this is an interview

“When are you going to ask it?”, the public relations professional asked the journalist during an interview with the CEO. According to American journalist Call Fussman, this is exactly what the PR professional asked him during an interview. The question the PR professional referred to was a question that every journalist had asked Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon over and over again: When is Amazon gonna make money. And this was exactly the reason why Cal Fussman did not ask that particular question. His goal was another. He wanted to create and maintain a relaxed atmosphere and he wanted the CEO to have a good time, reveal more of himself, be more open. He was not looking for stock answers and wanted to avoid that the CEO would invent answers because he was bored. His goal was that the CEO felt at home the entire interview.

Cal Fussman was interviewed by HBR Ideacast recently about decoding the art of interviewing, to give his advice to HR professionals. What I find most interesting is what Public Relations and Communications professionals and anybody preparing to be interviewed can learn from Cal’s insights.

Firstly, let me explain who Cal Fussman is. He is an American journalist and author. He writes for Esquire magazine, known for the What I’ve Learned column, where he interviews leaders in various fields. At the age of 23, he travelled the world for 10 years without having any money. He followed journalism school where he learned to interview before he left home but where he really learned how to ask questions and make a connection with people was during his trip around the world. He looked for empty seats next to people on trains and busses, get them to trust him to invite him home. This is how he became an expert at getting people’s trust and developing successful interview techniques.

Using Cal’s advice for what makes the best interview, how can PR and Communications professionals, CEOs and other people preparing for an interview, turn this information to their advantage?

  1. If journalists request the interview to be set up outside the office, this is for a reason. In a place where people can be completely relaxed, natural and feel at home, people open up. There is nothing wrong with creating a relaxed atmosphere where you can have a true conversation, but be aware of the impact of the place of the interview on the person that is going to be interviewed. If the person to be interviewed feels safe, they are not going to be guarded.
  1. If the person to be interviewed feels trusted, the answers will be more open. And if there is more trust, the answers will be even better (for the journalist, not necessarily for the person to be interviewed). Journalists that avoid the appearance of it being an interview might not bring a sheet of questions, but instead they bring a recorder, sit back and relax.
  1. If you know all of the above and what follows here, you still are able to remain in control of the message:

Imagine an interview situation where the first questions are asked to humanize. The follow up questions are asked based on the first response and then go deeper and deeper, clinging to the answers of the responses. The journalist is paying real attention to what is being said and aims to get better responses going forward. He/she intends to ask smart follow up questions in the nicest way, not breaking the trust. He/she will avoid to push to the point where people get uncomfortable. He/she will look into your eyes and make you feel very important. The tougher questions will be saved for the end of the interview. By then, people might want to answer a difficult question differently and give a more “satisfying” answer.

The key for the person to be interviewed is to remain in control of the message at all times by understanding how to respond to mentioned interview techniques in a relaxed way. And yes, you can prepare yourself for this. It’s called mediatraining.

If you are interested, listen to the interview with Cal Fussman on SoundCloud.

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