Speaking from personal experience, I know firsthand how nerve-wrecking it is to give a great interview, especially when you’re interviewing someone famous.
Over the 6 years that I’ve been interviewing people, I’ve developed effective interview techniques that allow me to get more from my conversations with celebrities than initially assumed possible.
Honestly speaking, learning how to give great celeb interviews is more about consistency than anything else. The more you’re in the field and out there interviewing people, the more you pick up skills that guide you to becoming natural at it.
Celeb Interview Case Study: Pitbull
1) I love Pitbull. (Yes, even though he’s more commercial these days. Hey, that’s where the money is.), and
2) I didn’t know what to expect, especially because I was nervous. I was actually scared that I fumble.
Fortunately, the interview went way better than expected, and I’m pleased to say I walked away even more of a fan.
1. I researched Pitbull.
Every great interview starts with research. When you’re in the talent pool of prospective job candidates, your employer will research you. They’ll Google you, look for your social media profiles, and even ask you to sign waivers concerning your background check.
Of course, I didn’t need to perform any criminal or background checks about Pitbull to conduct an interview. I simply used the power of Google. There is plenty of information about the Miami rapper online that simply needed to be sorted through with a fine tooth comb.
I read interviews, especially recent ones. I watched video interviews. I looked at his website, and I checked out his Twitter.
By looking through content that was already produced featuring his words, his music and his live actions caught on film, I was given a sense of who he was and where he was at in his life and career. This made it easier to consider ways to relate to him once the interview started.
2. I asked unique questions built off prior interviews.
Even though it’s part of their job and common to experience, celebrities hate spitting out the same routine answers to the same routine interviews.
Of course, they’re excited about their new album. Of course, they expect their movie to do well at the box office. Of course, everyone was a pleasure to work with and great to be around.
Of course, of course, absolutely, oh yes… of course.
I didn’t just ask Pitbull routine things he’s used to answering in other interviews. I asked him about lyrics in his songs. I asked him to expound further on things he said in other interviews that sounded fascinating, but weren’t really focused on. And I asked plenty of open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are important for interviews with celebrities. Many times, the celebrity doesn’t have a lot of time to talk to you. You may be lucky to get about 15-20 minutes in a conference with that celebrity and their PR person (who will call on their phone or from a blocked number).
Asking Pitbull open-ended questions about his projects at the time, such as Imaginate and Planet Pit, or the then-upcoming 2008 Presidential election and the American economy, allowed me to get lengthy quotes that proved juicy for my actual article, thus making the most of my time.
3. I listened closely and intensely to everything he said.
When Pitbull spoke, I listened closely to his words and wrote the quotes bit by bit. At the time, I did not have a recorder, which was a shame on my part (- you always need a recorder-), but I made up for it by sitting my ex’s car on base in 90 degree plus weather with the air off and the windows up with a pen and notebook in my hand because I needed to catch every bit of every answer Pitbull gave. (I didn’t make it back to my house in time to do this interview.)
The more you listen, the more you develop a knack for picking up the juiciest bits useful to quote in your article. And building your article around the best quotes of the interview is an intuitive process, but one that guarantees better responses from your readers – and even the celebrities and their PR – with time.
Also, intense listening also allowed me to give a better interview because…
4. I sculpted my questions around Pitbull’s answers.
The best way to conduct an interview is in a conversational manner. And the best way to conduct a celebrity interview in a conversational manner is to develop a friendly rapport from the beginning and ask questions based off the information they’re giving you in the moment.
Pitbull, by nature, is very laid back and conversational. He’s really chill and doesn’t hold back on his thoughts when he’s comfortable. Therefore, I was able to access his candid thoughts. And then, through good listening and great interest in what he had to say, I was able to ask more questions based off the information provided.
When you’re interested in what your subject has to say, you easily transform your interview into a conversation. You’re less on edge, more at ease and your questions will flow naturally. Conversely, you’ll find the subject begins answering questions you may have intended to ask before you officially have to “ask” them, even the controversial ones.
5. I recorded his answers.
6. I showed respect – I didn’t interrogate.
Prying and asking celebrities extremely personal questions – ones that are obviously obnoxious, such as their sex life with another celebrity, or how they manage finances – is disrespectful on so many levels.
When I showed respectful candor in my interview with Pitbull, it allowed us to remain conversational and friendly, allowing me to ask more challenging questions without creating a hostile environment.
Do not begin your interview asking controversial questions – especially ones that start with the phrase “Let’s cut to the chase.” It sets an unfriendly tone that can cut your interview short and piss off the celeb and their PR person, killing your opportunity for a great story.
Conclusion: Giving an Interview is about Presence
Heavy fan love aside, Pitbull was, all in all, an excellent interview. He was respectful, personable and he even put me on hold to sign autographs and take pictures for fans while he was stuck in traffic. When we accidentally disconnected, he called back, direct from his business line. (No PR barriers whatsoever, which I loved the most.)
Overall, you know what made this interview incredible?
Sure, I had to write everything by hand, and yes, I was sweating bullets in a hot ass car on an Air Force base in New Mexico. I faced a lot of challenges in getting this interview done. However, in spite of this all, I made it a point to be present for every moment of the interview. Presence in allowed me to get strong quotes I would not have gotten if I had been distracted. Presence allowed me to ask the questions that made this interaction distinctive. Presence transformed the interview into a conversation.
I’m not Eckhart Tolle. I cannot tell you any shortcuts to developing presence. That’s a learned skill, something that comes with consistent practice over time through various methods. (Do an online search if you need to.) What I can and will say is, if you make it a habit to develop presence in your interviews, it’ll be much easier to make a good interview a great one – especially if it’s with someone you truly admire.