There are types of speaking which rely heavily on preparation. In others you must speak completely off-the-cuff with no preparation at all. One of my favourite aspects of speaking is facilitation. The kind of speaking where you are semi-prepared. You can prepare some of what you are going to say, but the rest relies on other forms of communication skills – listening to what other people are saying and reacting to that.
Some of times you might need to use these kinds of skills include:
- Interviewing someone
- Hosting a panel discussion
- Emceeing an event
In this series of articles, I’m going to share tips on how effecrively facilitate in these roles. This is mainly from the perspective of the person doing the facilitation, albeit some of the advice is relevant to the speakers. Whilst mainly gleaned from facilitation of conferences, webinars and similar events, some of these tips apply equally to everyday situations, for example meetings and interviews.
Facilitiating Interview-Style Events
Interviewing someone is the opportunity to showcase their experiences; in their career or life in general. These events enable an audience to learn from someone senior in an industry, with a particular expertise in their field or specific life experiences. They can take inspiration from their successes and advice. The role of the MC is to elicit stories and insights most helpful to the audience through astute questioning.
In order to be an effective interviewer, you need to know something about the interviewee and prepare pertinent questions. You should have some information in advance (a bio/CV, an example of their work, they may have a website). Social media is also a good source of inspiration. From what your interviewee is posting and sharing, you will be able to find out about their passions and interests. Asking them about things that they care about is likely to elicit the most engaging responses.
As with all public speaking, you must think about your audience. Why will they be interested in this interview? What will they want to hear about from the speaker? How can you best serve them with your questions? Consider talking to some potential audience members in advance to get their perspective on what they would find interesting.
Where possible, you should try to build a narrative with your questions. The best way to do this is likely to be dependent on the type of interview. In all cases you should try to avoid jumping backwards and forwards between different topics.
One of the easiest ways to build a narrative is through time. A friend interviewed a politician during the pandemic (lockdown 2). For this we discussed starting with the interviewee and how they began their career, then move onto the current crisis, then their thoughts on the future.
You do not always have to start at in the past, it might make sense to go the other way. You could organise your questions via topic areas, starting with the interviewees most recent accomplishments and moving from there to related disciplines.
Consider how much time you have and make sure you do not leave the most important questions until last.
Keep it simple
Another recurring speaking theme to bear in mind – simplicity and clarity. Whether it’s in a seminar/webinar situation or a job/promotion interview, one of the most frustrating scenarios I come across is when the interviewer asks several questions at once. Sometimes two- or three-part questions, sometimes connected but separate questions.
Perhaps it’s the way that my brain works, but I like to concentrate on one thing at a time. Whether I am the one trying to answer the questions or listening to the answers, it is challenging to take in the first question if you are also distracted by the second. I believe it is better to ask clear, straightforward questions. If you have connected questions, allow the interviewee to answer the first part (short answers are fine), then ask the next question. This will facilitate a better experience for your speaker and your audience.
An interview should really be a conversation. An effective interviewer will have questions prepared, but you cannot just go into auto pilot and read out one question after another. You must listen carefully to each answer. A follow-up question might be needed to explore the issue further. It may also make sense to change the prepared order of your questions if another topic comes up. Be reactive and do what makes sense.
In this article I have focussed on an interview where the MC asks the questions. There are situations where the audience can ask questions – you will find tips on this in my next article on panel discussions.