How to give a better interview or be a better interviewer

By Bruce Firestone | Business Coaching

Jun 04

Sales and marketing are about storytelling, true, but it’s also about improving your ability to communicate.

A client of mine started his storytelling business–teaching enterprises how to do a better job at communicating their stories. His first step is interviewing clients using a two-way video tool like Zoom, which he records and uploads (unlisted) to YouTube where he and his client can access it and work on improving it together.

But he is struggling a bit with his interview skills.

So, this is what I wrote him:

Here’s the thing, Caleb—you know how I said my PhD supervisor Max Neutze told me: “The first million (written) words are the hardest?”

Well, the same thing is true for interviews, whether you are being interviewed or doing the interviewing.

I have probably done over 2,000 keynotes, TV interviews, journalist interviews, radio interviews, podcasts… and now as a coach, hundreds of times where I am doing the interviewing.

You will get better at this. OK? Just keep practicing.

Here’re a few tips:

Sit up straighter.

Smile more.

Make reassuring noises whist saying things such as “Right!” from time to time

Nod your head occasionally.

Do some more smiling.

Lean in.

Lean out.

Mirror your subject.

And project your voice more too alright?

About a half hour before I give a keynote, I eat a candy bar! The brain runs on sugar so I get a (short) boost that’s long enough to get me through an hour or so.

Half a candy bar is good; a whole one is too much–it’ll give you the jitters.

Don’t eat anything (other than your candy bar) for at least an hour before you are ON. And drink only water. Coffee is a no-no and fizzy drinks are especially bad. Who likes to hear you burp during a speech or an interview.

Always, always, always practice your speech or questions the night before and the day of (but not 5-minutes before showtime).

For the last 20-minutes before game time, don’t talk to anyone. Go somewhere you can be alone and center yourself, FOCUS!

Make sure you remind yourself a few minutes before the event what you are covering off in the first few minutes. After that, you’ll start to relax and get better.

Start fast and end slow.

Everyone tends to start slow, then, when they realize they are running out of time, they speed up. #Wrong

No one will remember a thing you say if you rush your ending…

Dress appropriately/professionally.

Remember a huge percentage of human communication is non-verbal: it’s body-language and tonality–so looking confident and sounding confident are really key.

“If you wants the money, you gots to be funny,” so try to be humorous (but never tell any off-color jokes… just work humor naturally into your thing. And if you are funny, stop and smile so your audience knows you meant it to be funny.)

Here’s a joke for you:

Q: Why don’t cows have any money?

A: Because farmers milk them dry.

[Source: the internet.]

Get some exercise the day before and especially the day of your speech or interview. Even a 20-minute walk is enough to help you energize yourself.

Start and finish on time.

Remember to breathe!

Make eye contact with your audience–all of them even the ones in the back or side of the room.

Ask your audience a few questions—get them involved.

If someone asks you a question, take it, don’t tell them to wait until the end, make it a conversation not a presentation.

Don’t read your slides, highlight the most important points on each slide but don’t feel you have to say everything in your slidedeck—that’s too pedantic IMHO.

Don’t over-explain each slide, don’t go off on a tangent, make your point then move on.

Try to use more pictures and fewer words.

Don’t focus on how good other speakers are—it’ll just make you feel inadequate (in fact, I try NOT to listen to speakers who go before me for this exact reason and, anyway, I want to concentrate on what I have to say, not what they’re saying plus I don’t want to tire myself out or lose my focus).

Be yourself.

Be authentic.

If you forget where you are, admit it and ask the audience for help—they’ll laugh with you.

If you really get stage-fright, take a 2-minute break—just ask the organizer if s/he would mind filling in for a minute or two while you collect yourself then go back on stage and finish—the show must go on.

If you’ve miscalculated and you are running out of time, don’t speak faster, simply say to your audience, “I’m going to skip these slides and get to the most important ones,” then smile and also tell them your slides will be available for anyone who would like to review them in detail; ask them to contact you directly to see the rest of them…

Keynotes are, first, about inspiring people, second, about giving folks an overview and broad understanding of the subject matter and, finally, about teaching—don’t turn it into an elementary school classroom with you as schoolteacher—assume your audience can already add 1+1.

Remind yourself of this during the last few minutes before you go on: “I know what I am doing. I am good at what I do. I know more about this subject than my audience. Most of my audience wants me to succeed–they’re cheering for me. I BELIEVE IN MYSELF. I AM CONFIDENT IN MYSELF.”

Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD
Real Estate Investment and Business coach
ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker
Ottawa Senators founder


Image source: Steve Jobs never gave keynote speeches; he gave “Stevenotes,”

Note: some details changed for privacy reasons.

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.