10 Tips to Conduct Great Interviews, from Texas Monthly Editor-In-Chief Evan Smith

pug interviewer

Texas Monthly President and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith was the speaker at today’s Association for Women in Communication luncheon. He shared juicy stories from his experience hosting the Texas Monthly Talks series on KLRU and highlights of his favorite and most disastrous interviews. (Faves: Tom Brokaw, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Least fave: Jerry Hall)

Here, his 10* tips for conducting great interviews:

1. Don’t underprepare – you must have command of all the facts in your head, not just on paper.

2. Don’t overprepare – don’t cram your head so full of facts that you can’t see straight or carry on a conversation. (Smith says he does all his prep the day before an interview, like cramming for a test, and doesn’t use notes.)

3. Listen – don’t just wait to talk.

4. It’s not about me – subordinate your ego. You’re not there to talk about yourself. You’re there to enable someone else to share their story.

5. Motivate the person you’re talking to. Understand why they’re doing the interview, and give them an opportunity to talk about that. But don’t let whatever they’re plugging be the sole focus of the interview.

6. Play to the audience (if you have one).

7. Forget the audience. Don’t let them drive the show or be a distraction. (Smith says his show should really be called “Overheard Bullshitting.” Has a nice ring to it, huh?)

8. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard question(s). Smith says this is one of the biggest mistakes inexperienced interviewers make. Don’t back down just because you’re nervous or starstruck.

9. Don’t let ’em filibuster. This is an interview, not a monologue. Especially important for broadcast interviews.

10. Ask something off script. Your subject is used to hearing the same questions over and over again. Surprise them with an unexpected question, and you might get an answer that leads you to a place you didn’t know about. Find the odd detail in someone’s bio. Smith asked Billy Bob Thornton about his first job laying asphalt.


11. Be polite and respectful. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. (“Every interview is not Watergate,” Smith says.) Say please and thank you. This can go a long way with your interviewee.

Thanks to Kathleen for reminding me about the hilarious clip Evan shared of his interview with Ted Nugent. Catch’s Evan’s facial expression at about the 1:05 mark. I think that says it all.

Adorable image source: zoomar

8 Responses to “10 Tips to Conduct Great Interviews, from Texas Monthly Editor-In-Chief Evan Smith”

  1. Cory Says:

    Great post! I recall he said that Jerry Hall was the interview he wasn’t sure he could get through…after 12 minutes, he was out of interest! My other favorite takeaway was: ~”I go in knowing the first and last questions I’m going to ask, and nothing else.”

  2. j Says:

    Great tips on interviewing. So glad you’re up and blogging. Proud, j

  3. tracy Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Cory and Jason!

    Cory, you’re right about the Jerry Hall interview. And I know he mentioned others that he truly disliked (a certain presidential candidate, a certain writer who was “tin-foil hat crazy”). I loved hearing all those stories!

  4. Dorothy Says:

    Thanks for the recap, Tracy! I missed the luncheon so this was great.

  5. Donna Daugherty Says:

    Tracy, thanks for posting this. I had to leave about 15 minutes early so missed most of the tips. Evan was great, what a coup for AWC!

  6. Kathleen Says:

    Thanks Tracy – this recap exactly matches my notes. I did go back and watch the Nellie Connally interview after he talked about it. And, I highly recommend folks check out the Ted Nugent episode if for nothing else than to catch the look on Evan’s face!

  7. tracy Says:

    Thanks for your comments, and I’m glad y’all found this post useful!

  8. Conducting Great Interviews (SXSW Recap) Says:

    […] For more on conducting great interviews, see my post on 10 Interview Tips from former Texas Monthly Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. […]

Leave a Reply

I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.