While many may feel fine just jumping into an interview without much prep, this approach didn’t sit well with me. Instead, to prepare for every athlete interview, I employed a two step approach:
- Research the athlete to familiarize myself with who she is/what she cares about. This means, reading all articles, watching videos, and reviewing her social media posts (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) for the last year or so. Now, some people may think this approach is creepy, but I like to go into every conversation knowing who I am speaking with so I can focus our questions on issues and events about which the athlete actually cares. Our time together is limited (between 30–45 minutes with every athlete), so we don’t have time to waste.
2. Once I get a sense of who each athlete is, I create draft interview guides that I share for her feedback. Each guide includes our interview goals and draft questions. This means that every interview guide is different and customized to the individual athlete. I ask every athlete to weigh in, as I want to focus on what she wants to discuss. I then adjust the questions according to her requests. Feedback solicitation is an important step (even if the athlete doesn’t provide any comments), as it builds emotional buy-in and illustrates my dedication to telling their stories as they want them told. From my perspective, there’s only so much information I can find online, so I greatly appreciate their guidance!
In the interviews themselves, there are three elements I focus on:
- Adopting a relaxed and fun-loving tone. These athletes don’t have to speak with me, so the interview experiences need to be positive. In my actual interviews, I try to make the conversations as much fun and enjoyable as possible and I do my best to match the energy level of who I am speaking with. Now to be clear, I don’t try to befriend them. This is a common pitfall of people who work with celebrities, as they fool themselves into thinking the talent actually wants to get to know them. Rather, my goal is to impress each athlete with the quality of my work and how I tell their stories, not by trying to be their friend. By creating a natural and positive environment, my hope is that I help foster an atmosphere in which we can have real and honest conversations. >> I learned this approach to working with ‘celebrities’ by watching Suzanne Lindbergh, VP, Verizon Media Group when she built the BUILD Series from the ground up. She hosted the biggest names in the world on her show, and throughout all of it, she not only maintained her cool, but also made it an enjoyable positive experience for the talent.
- Listening and adjusting my questions on the fly. Sometimes, athletes mention an event or situation that is really powerful in her life. Instead of simply carrying on with my prepared line of questions, I seek to be adaptable to see where each athlete wants to take the conversation in the moment >> I learned this from speaking with and listening to Ashley Judd. I think Ashley is such a powerful leader because she is such a fantastic listener.
- Being grateful for their willingness to connect and sensitive to their time. I will always cut my interview short rather than go over by a single minute. I want each interviewee to know and feel that I respect their support and time >> I have my colleagues who who have not respected my time for this valuable insight. On too many occasions, I have left meetings and conversations frustrated by others’ disregard for our agreed-upon timing, so I pledged to be particularly mindful of time with everyone who speaks with me.