I’m an introvert’s introvert. My ideal night involves a few friends and a bowl of ice cream; I retreat in silence after coming home from a busy workday; and I dread the thought of answering a phone call from an unknown number. But I absolutely love conducting interviews.
Perhaps it’s because interviews put the focus on someone else, or simply allow me to indulge my curiosity. Whatever the reason, there’s almost nothing I love more than posing questions to a total stranger. Here are a few tips I’ve learned for striking up an engaging conversation:
1. Start simply. Ask a few softball questions to ease your way in and establish a comfortable rapport. People generally like to talk about themselves, so one of the easiest ways to draw someone out is to give him or her room to do so.
Hint: This part is often more fun if you don’t already know all of the answers to the questions you’re asking. Prepare for the interview only so much, so that you’re not bored by the responses.
2. Ask open-ended but direct questions. You don’t want to ask such straightforward questions that they result in a simple yes or no, of course, but you also don’t want to be so vague that the interviewee is left flummoxed about how to respond. Striking the balance is key.
Try envisioning yourself in the interviewee’s shoes to make sure what you’re asking is clear, and that the guardrails are up just enough to steer the conversation forward. And keep in mind: Asking questions you’re genuinely interested in is the best way to ensure you’ll receive interesting answers.
3. Don’t be afraid of the pause. I’ve found that some of the best quotes arise during the conversational lull while I’m trying to capture what the person last said. The slight discomfort of the pause is a great motivator, urging the interviewee to consider a better way to answer or offer up additional information. So before filling the awkward silence yourself, give the person you’re chatting with the chance to do so.
4. Listen actively. Avoid thinking ahead to what you’re going to ask next. Instead, sit in the moment to really indulge in what the person is saying. Reacting to a particular response often opens up new avenues you might never think to take if you’re solely focused on checking questions off your list. Be open to the surprises of conversation!
5. End with a role reversal. I always like to conclude by asking, “Is there anything else you’d like to comment on or share?” It’s vague, yes, but it gives interviewees the freedom to step outside of my question grid and offer up something that they think is important. This can change the entire course of our conversation and finally unearth That Really Big Idea I would have otherwise missed.