There’s a hard truth about interviews we don’t talk much about: Being interviewed sucks.
If you’ve been interviewed, you know how nerve-wracking it can be. Every hesitation, each fact you misremembered or host’s name you forgot — it’s being recorded and there’s no going back. From the interviewee’s perspective, where does this tension come from?
Interviewees believe that in order to give the best interview, they have to perform. And for the most part, we’re not practiced performers.
I think it comes down to this: Interviewees believe that in order to give the best interview, they have to perform. And for the most part, we’re not practiced performers. We want to project a version of ourselves we think is best for this particular situation, but we often come off stiff or rigid. We’re not being ourselves and it shows.
For an interviewee, there’s a sliding scale with two different states of being. On one side is the Performer State. This is the uneasy version of your guest. They’re insecure. They’re tense. Their recall is weakened. Their ability to connect deeply with emotions is all but severed. This is not where good stories come from. Stories a guest tells while on this side of this scale feel rehearsed and tend to be superficial in nature. These are the stories that eventually get cut.
It’s our job as the interviewer to move the guest from the Performer State to the Hero State. When we’re the most truthful, honest versions of ourselves — in our Hero State — we feel seen, and we’re willing to see others without judgment.
Being authentic in an interview is challenging, which is why most guests start in a Performer State. Here’s how to slide your guests to a Hero State, and in turn fix the sucky side of being interviewed.
Let’s start with the first piece of Story Discovery: Priming. Before the interview begins, it’s imperative that you do your research. You may throw it all out the window, but the interviewee will feel respected (maybe even admired). When you’ve put the work in, your guest is more likely to open up and slide into a Hero State.
Listen for the clues of a hero. By that, I mean listen for the signs of a great, authentic story.
On the flip side, imagine being interviewed and having to correct questions as they’re being asked. The interviewer is messing up simple information about your past, even though it can easily be found on your website. It probably feels like the conversation doesn’t mean much to the podcaster, right? A natural reaction would be to close yourself off and try to ‘carry’ the interview in a defensive Performer State.
If you waste time stumbling through the basics of your guest’s story, you’re forfeiting the chance to capture their real story — the one they’d want to tell. Taking time to research isn’t just for your guest’s feelings. Put them in a Hero State, and your listeners will enjoy a much more engaging episode.
Look for Clues
The second part of Story Discovery is to listen for the clues of a hero. By that, I mean listen for the signs of a great, authentic story. Someone might be shy to give you everything at once, so play detective. Listen carefully for these four opportunities:
- Something unpredictable happened
- The interviewee experienced a significant change
- They overcame a massive obstacle
- They learned a valuable lesson
This is Lisa Davis. She ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Oh, and by the way she was 50 years old when she did it. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and I couldn’t have asked for a better interviewee.
Know what to listen for: unpredictable events, significant changes, massive obstacles, and valuable lessons.
She was an anomaly; she came in relaxed and ready to share her stories. She was already in a Hero State. But even so, I had to pry for details here and there, which is expected in all interviews.
At one point she mentioned she first got into running by taking on the Marine Corps Marathon in her 30s. And in my head I was like, “YOU STARTED RUNNING MARATHONS IN YOUR 30s?”
She’s a Marine, but still, how incredible is that?
This detail was the clue that led to her story of overcoming a massive obstacle. After having her daughter, doctors told her that her hips had been affected in such a way that running long distances would be impossible. She felt depressed and alone in this heartbreaking news.
Then she found out Oprah had run the Marine Corps Marathon, and she thought: If Oprah can do it, then there’s no reason I can’t. And so she did.
As an interviewer, if you know what to listen for — unpredictable events, significant changes, massive obstacles, and valuable lessons — you’ll tease out compelling stories that leave your guest speaking as a Hero, not a Performer.
Curiosity is Essential
This brings us to what I would argue is the most important piece of Story Discovery — not just being curious here and there. But committing to it.
When you commit to curiosity, and do it in a genuine manner, you create a safe, confident space for your guest. If you’ve been interviewed a few times, you likely know that tuned-in feeling. It’s exhilarating! However, you likely know the opposite feeling as well.
The Receiving End of Curiosity
It’s such a rare treat to have a captive audience in a stranger. You’ll find that it’s just as rewarding for you, the interviewer, as it is for your guest. If you express authentic curiosity, you’ll be amazed at the intimate details people will share.
If you express authentic curiosity, you’ll be amazed at the intimate details people will share.
If there’s a shortcut to curiosity, it’s being present. Right now, at this very moment, your guest needs to be the most important person in your world. Distractions or moments of inattention will create little cracks in their confidence. When you sense that you’re not being listened to, how do you react? You’re likely to retreat back into a closed-off Performer State.
Editing is Writing
Once the interview is complete, your job is just beginning. Now that you’re in a different mindset — an editor instead of an interviewer — your perspective will shift. As you listen to playback of the interview, you’ll find new connections.
Keep your guest’s Hero State in mind as you craft the episode’s narrative. At this point in the Story Discovery process, you determine once more what your listeners will ‘discover.’ Make it count.
When you give someone permission to be themselves (which is an incredibly daunting thing) you open the door to unforgettable stories.
When you give someone permission to be themselves (which is an incredibly daunting thing) you open the door to unforgettable stories. These are the moments that illustrate the human experience. Why not set the stage for meaning? There’s no greater gift you can give your guest.
If I could ask you to remember one thing, it’s this: Committing to curiosity will result in a better conversation, no matter what. Sh** will hit the fan. Maybe the whole interview slipped your mind until 15 minutes before. Maybe you’ll be exhausted because you were up with your newborn all night. Yes, you’ll be underprepared in those moments. But your curious attitude will always shine through.
When in doubt, think about your guest’s perspective. Again, being interviewed sucks! As the interviewer, you have an opportunity to break that cycle.
In a Performer State, your guest will be feeling pressure. In a Hero State, they’ll feel validated, excited, and ready to drop their shield.
Choose your own adventure: In a Performer State, your guest will be feeling pressure. In a Hero State, they’ll feel validated, excited, and ready to drop their shield.
Bonus tip: To find heroes, it helps to be your own hero by proactively being your authentic self. Putting on a performance will only take you so far.
“Be true to yourself. Don't tell jokes that don't make you laugh. Don't tell stories that don't make you cry.” — Dan Harmon