There's no question that Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential conversational interviewers ever (read about the 5 Interview Lessons interview types here,) her talk show "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was the highest rated TV show of its kind in history. Today she hosts the successful "Supersoul Conversations," a TV show and a podcast. What can we learn from her? Here are four things she does in every interview.
#1 The most important question
The most important question comes BEFORE the interview. Oprah says "I approach every interview by asking, "What is my intention? What do I really want to accomplish?'" It's something podcasting trailblazer Pat Flynn puts another way, he says the most important thing to determine in your interview prep isn't what or how but WHY. A clear understanding of the goal will guide your questions and your reactions, that's what will set your interview apart.
A conversational interview is about rapport and compassion. Oprah creates connection from behind the mic with empathy. "You can't accomplish anything if you're judging," says the Supersoul Conversations host. It's an intentional technique - "I'm nonjudgmental in an interview. Out of an interview, there's a whole other side of me!" Her goal is to disarm the guest, make them comfortable, so they speak freely. As an interviewer you are on a search for meaning. "my secret to interviewing: How do I find the common denominator that allows a person to know that I hear them, and that what they say means something to me?"
#3 Detailed preparation
I listened to Oprah's interview with Steven Pressfield (if you haven't read his book "War of Art" I highly recommend it!.) Her detailed preparation for the interview was clear. I could hear that she had been working to understand Pressfield's take on the concepts he discussed arriving ready with questions that would allow her to dig deeper into the ideas. The level of detail was evident in the frequent references to quotes and page numbers. A perfect combination of big-picture thinking and detailed groundwork.
The "why," the empathy, and the detailed prep all come together in the conversation. Oprah acts as a translator, helping her audience process the ideas her guest presents through her own lens. Oprah is not afraid to be an active participant in the conversation sharing stories, and ideas of her own to help deepen her audience's understanding and give them additional routes to access the information her guest presents. This is the art of the conversation interviewer: bringing her own stories and comments to the conversation to lead her audience to a better connection with the guest.
Read more about interviewing for podcasts, documentaries, testimonials and oral histories at Interview Lessons.