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.