How to conduct an interview like a pro

Testimonials are an essential part of your sales strategy


This week I’ve conducted interviews on behalf of one of my clients with three of their customers in Stuttgart, Brussels and Barcelona. Today I do an interview in Colorado and next week I will conducting around 25 different interviews on a temporary green screen studio we set up in London.

I don’t watch TV in the traditional way any more, I spend all my time looking at how TV is made. Camera angles, questioning techniques, interview style and set layout are all I see now. I have to rewatch things to hear the content!

It’s fair to say I’m obsessed with how to get good at having conversations, which are being recorded.

I thought it was time to share what I’ve learnt about getting the best interview possible. Do note, this is not about interviewing candidates for a job, but how to create testimonials and case studies for your business and your customers’. There is no better method of delivering social proof on your website or collateral than real live customers extolling your virtues. This is how to do get it right.

The approach

It’s been said that the best time to ask for referrals and testimonials is as soon as someone signs up to your product or service. Grab ’em while they’re hot. I sort of agree with that concept, however I’d taper it a little. We’ve had situations where a customer has signed up and as part of the deal, we’ve asked for a testimonial interview in say a month’s time. This commits the customer, yet at the same time lets them get used to the service, experience what you can do for them and in short, give them more to talk about! There’s no point in asking for an interview, when the really juicy stuff might take them a couple of months to uncover. Be sensitive to this.

When you do approach a customer, it’s nice to ask on the back of something else, so it doesn’t sound so threatening. Maybe they’ve asked a question, submitted a support request or even are reporting a problem of some kind… solve their problem and ask them whether you could talk to them later in the month – you’d love to find out how they’re feeling about the service and whether they’d consider allowing you to record the interview.

Give them some options for times (being sensitive to time zones) or ask them for when suits. Confirm it in writing and be crystal clear on how long it will last, and most importantly, what your intention is to do with it once published. State that up front, so that there are no surprises later.

The method

Offer your customer a video interview first (that’s definitely the way to go)… if they’re not happy with that, then audio is second best. If they are close by, go and see them. Grab your PC or Mac, plug in a microphone and off you go. If they are further afield, then Skype is an amazing alternative. Skype recording has become part of my life.

For Skype video, if you’re on a PC, by far and away (and I’ve tested them all), Vodburner is the way to go. It’s a video recorder for Skype, requires a reasonable amount of processing power (well it is recording live video) and includes an editor within it, which automatically cuts between you and your subject and works a treat. Make sure you use a powerful, cleanish PC for best results.

If you’re using audio only, then offers a completely free, and most excellent Skype recorder. You can learn a lot from the huge volume of podcast interviews around. One of my favourites is here. Listen to the natural conversation between Timbo and James – that’s one of the reason it works so well. Timbo is also a good ‘framer’ – he puts things into context a lot and is a natural guide, summariser and host.


Have you seen Frost Nixon, the movie? You should watch it if you’re going to do this regularly. The meticulous detail they put in around the questions was quite extraordinary.

Think about how you’re going to introduce your interviewee – what’s the context, their job title, company name etc…? Script it out if you have to, and it’s great to memorise your first 10-15 seconds, so you can get the first few words out confidently. Accept you’re going to be nervous – if you don’t do this often, (and even if you do) if you’re excited about who you’re about to talk to, you will have some nerves. These nerves will be magnified if you don’t prepare well. I was nervous for this interview, because my subject was a long time hero of mine (and still is!).

Have your questions ready. Write them down in front of you. Think about all of the different permutations of things you could ask. Phrase open questions – how, why, who, when, where. Know your subject, research them, surprise them with what you know – it’s OK, it’s not stalking – it shows you care. It will also help to engage with them if you show you’ve done your homework. Don’t be afraid to write down questions which are more personal to them – expose their personality – that’s interesting to listen to.

On the day

If you planned well, the interview generally will go well.

Greet your interviewee, whether online or face to face. Brief them. Tell them exactly what to expect and what will happen – guide them through the process. They will be nervous unless they do this all the time. They are even more nervous with three cameras, mics, a cameraman, a green screen, an autocue and a set of lights. Your job is to put them at ease. I like to say we’re just here for a chat, and avoid the ‘interview’ word… that helps.

Record nothing to start with. Rehearse the interview through. Run through the questions with them and get them to give you a couple of fullish answers. Help them get over any nerves by rehearsing.

Here’s the next really important bit… ASK THEM if they’d like to add any questions to the ones you’ve rehearsed. Typically, they’d like to say something you might not have thought of – give them the option of adding something – it could be a real gem you’ve not thought of!

It’s then time to hit the record button, whether on camera or on microphone.

Get your opening words out correctly and aim to do this right first time. 2nd takes are invariably worse than first takes in my experience. Everything’s ‘fresher’ first time round. If there is a stumble on a question or answer, pause and redo that part, but keep things rolling… you can edit it out later. Get the good stuff down on ‘tape’ first. Act as the host. Guide and prompt your interviewee. Don’t be afraid to ask additional/different questions to the ones written down. Your planning will allow you to do this.

LISTEN to their answers! React to them – don’t just ask the next question blindly – turn it into a conversation. That’s what your audience will enjoy.

When the conversation comes to a natural end, keep things rolling and ask your subject how they felt it went, whether they’d like to redo any of their answers, and whether you missed anything – and then keep going until you’re BOTH happy it’s worked. Make sure it has a rounding off statement (pre-prepared). It could be a call to action… “Take a look further down the page at more examples…” “sign up using the button just below…” etc etc. Think about that in advance!

Rounding off

Thank your subject – sorry to state the obvious – but it’s sometimes forgotten. Explain how long it will take you to complete the edit and explain they’ll be able to see / hear it before anyone else, to check they’re happy with it… OR ask whether they would like to. Most people don’t – if they’re happy with their performance, they won’t need to.

Publish, promote, rinse and repeat…

Love to hear about your experiences below.

The inspirational pinboard #3 – Holiday wisdom

“If you don’t take holidays, because you can’t afford to leave your business, you’re crazy.”

If you don’t take a break, you slowly start to hate your life and your business. It creeps up on you and whilst you are saying you are too busy to go away, you start producing average, uninspiring work, because you’re tired.

Plan it in advance, warn your clients, get some help and use the time to reflect, learn, enjoy your family and surroundings and do something different.

You’ll return a much better and more focused person.

Click here to download the A4 pinboard poster.

Original photograph and words by Mark Copeman

The inspirational pinboard #2 – Entrepreneurship

“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”

Every time you want to make important decisions, there are two possible courses of action:

You can look at the array of choices that present themselves, pick the best available option and try to make it fit.

Or, you can do what the true entrepreneur does: Figure out the best conceivable option and then make it available.

Click here to download the A4 pinboard poster.

Original photograph by Mark Copeman

The Reading Half Marathon – a good training ground

Sunday was wonderful. 5 of the team got stuck into 13.1 miles around Reading and its environs. The amazing thing was that all five of us did personal best times.

Carol and Mark M, two of our team are also running London in 3 weeks’ time, and so had something to prove. They both did magnificently.

I think the photo of Carol’s daughter says it all really.

For those of you watching carefully, Carol’s exploits are featured in yesterday’s London Standard!

You can check out the article here.

10 things I learnt by watching a top comedian at work

Up close and personal with Dara O’Briain

Recently, I was fortunate enough to see a work in progress and I learnt a lot. Myself, my wife and 58 others crammed into the most gorgeous, tiny theatre on Monday evening to watch a work in progress – it was a warm up gig for one of the UK and Ireland’s top comedians. Being up so close and personal, I learnt a lot. Dara O’Briain, is host of the BBC’s Mock the Week and Stargazing Live, amongst many other things and is about to embark on another sell-out UK tour from January.

Here’s what I learnt:

  1. Even if you’re on top of your game, you’re never too good to test your customer / audience reaction.
  2. Even when you’ve established yourself with a new market, unless you have something interesting to say, you will not engage your audience. Jerry Seinfeld once said he has three minutes where he can rely on his brand and the audience will listen to whatever he has to say. After that, he has to be as funny/engaging as any other comedian. Dara was in the same boat.
  3. You’re only as good as your last gig /communication.
  4. Honesty and transparency will win through every time – Dara explained from the outset that some things may not work. (Most things did).
  5. Practice, practice, practice whatever you do. The 10,000 hours rule applies to so many walks of life. I bet Dara’s done his 10,000 hours – and it shows.
  6. It’s OK to be nervous – it shows you care and are passionate about what you do. It was noticeable he was more nervous at the less tried and tested parts.
  7. I stood up in front of two audiences last week and presented what I do. I stood up and talked for 30 minutes. 20 minutes is the accepted length of time to hold an audience’s attention. Dara stood there for an hour and a half with 60 people hanging on his every word. That’s really tough. Next time you do a business presentation, I don’t recommend you try it.
  8. Stories he told about himself and every day life resonated most. Stories win every time. Audiences love stories. Especially ones that show challenge in the face of adversity and ones that people can relate to.
  9. Audiences / clients generally want you to succeed when you stand up in front of them – start with that mindset and you won’t go far wrong.
  10. Whilst this clearly wasn’t a business event, it amazes me the number of people who don’t get that communications in business can be entertaining too. When you are trying to deliver a message, if you do it with humour and energy, you’ll get a better response every time – because it’ll be memorable.

And for you Dara if you read this – make more the of corporate mockery – it’ll resonate across the country… your Dutch accent sounded French until I prompted you… the Call of Duty stuff was great and do more with the Dad’s late night telly – it makes us squirm and that’s funny.

I now have a new found respect for stand up comedians – you’re very alone on that stage and 90 minutes of saying original, interesting, funny, entertaining stuff with nothing but a mic to hold onto is tough.

The perfect consultant’s office setup

Everything becomes so much easier when you’re organised.

I’ve always loved my office – because, well… it’s mine. I can have it set up however I want – no one can tell me what I can and cannot do and like all the best things in life, it’s evolved over time.

Part of the evolution I have to attribute to an episode from Freedom Ocean – the excellent podcast with Timbo Reid and James Schramko. Thank you guys.

So – in the video below, I talk through what I think is the perfect office set up.

Details of some of the kit I mention:
USB mic

(FREE) Software – two pcs, one keyboard and mouse:

Is your marketing as bad as this?

Don’t make Ryanair’s mistake!

I’m constantly on the lookout for examples of good and bad marketing campaigns alike. I get inspiration from walking down the street, on Tube trains, online – wherever I roam really. My brain has been naturally tuned over the years to notice messages, process them, dump the bad ideas and to somehow harness the good ones.

The example below is about as bad as it gets.

In Ryanair’s rush to make money (from anything), someone somewhere thought it would make an excellent idea to make a couple of cents per click at most, by displaying links to their competitors, possibly offering better prices or at least the ability to compare their offer, in a matter of seconds.

Examples of bad marketing

Who in their right mind would allow such ridiculousness? “I know – let’s make a couple of cents, and hijack our core business by advertising our competitors next to our buy now page.” – you can just imagine the months of meetings that went into this strategy.

DON’T make their mistake – THINK through what you are doing before executing.

The inspirational pinboard #1 – Chase one big idea

“In order to grow, you have to be always chasing one really big idea”

Growth requires discipline. Discipline requires focus.

Focus can only be achieved when you know where you’re heading.

Have one vision. Focus on it relentlessly and everything will become clearer.

One idea inspiring pinboard

Click here to download the A4 pinboard poster.

Original photograph by Mark Copeman.

Find out more about John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing

My top 10 highlights from 2011

2011 – what a year!

It’s always good to look back on the year and figure out whether you’ve achieved or not, above and beyond the financial goals you may have set yourself.

2011 has been an amazing year for me in many ways and so I wanted to document my highlights to look back on for prosperity. In no particular order.

  1. After a year of courting and 3 months of working together on one of the worst projects I’ve ever been part of, I sacked a Fortune 500 client in April this year and haven’t looked back. Yes I was nervous, but boy was it the right thing to do.
  2. I took a 6 week, round the world, mini-retirement in July/August with my family.
  3. My proudest moment to date, Customer Thermometer launched to the world in January and boasts some ENORMOUS clients who literally rave about it on a daily basis. I’m seriously proud of what we’re creating.
  4. I tweaked my video production company, The 8.45 Club and now have a very healthy looking 2012 ahead producing Business TV for clients. I get to play presenter and talkshow host. So I’m like a pig in muck…
  5. I’ve just finishing watching my 4 year old daughter go through her first term of school and it’s been an absolute joy watching her love every moment.
  6. I watched James Schramko tell his life story in February and met him for coffee in August. He’s been a big inspiration in how I now do things.
  7. I’ve totally reconstructed how I present myself and my business(es) thanks to Ed Dale’s recommendation of this book. I cannot begin to tell you how much it’s changed my business career.
  8. I’ve got to talk to two marketing heroes of mine this year, David Meerman Scott and John Jantsch. It just proves once again, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  9. I ran a half marathon in sub two hours in March and have now set up a charity challenge around the running theme for Sept 2012 – more on that soon.
  10. I celebrated my 40th birthday in style in Ibiza and finally wrote the story of how I very nearly didn’t make my 30th birthday, let alone live 10 years beyond that.

What a year. These are just a handful of my personal highlights. Bring on 2012.

We’re off and running

2 months after pitching this Life’s for Living challenge to my fabulous bunch of mates, I finally get the website off the ground.

This blog is meant to capture the heartache, the fun, the training, the angst, the injuries, the sponsorship, the nerves and the donations. It will be contributed to by all members of the team over the coming months and I hope you might just become a regular visitor to find out how things are going and how much money we are raising.

With that, I hearby declare this website well and truly open.