Interviewing others is a skill that professional writers like me need to master. The odds are that most of us will have to interview multiple sources at some point in our careers, so why not do the best job possible?
5 Tips for a Better Interview
Really listen to what the other person is saying (or not saying)
This should be your number one rule. Always keep in mind that this is an interview, not a conversation. Your job is to concentrate on the other person’s answers, rather than on trying to frame your own response to them. A good use of your time is to try to delve deeper into the original question and capture the feelings behind, and the essence of, what they’re saying. This will usually help you develop a greater understanding of them as an individual.
Consider interviewing the old-fashioned way
I don’t use a recording device when I interview. Rather, I still do all my in-person, Skype, and phone interviews with a pen and paper. There are two reasons for this. First, I’ve found that most people tend to either think too carefully about their answers when they see you recording them or, at the other extreme, forget that the conversation is being recorded and say things that they will later regret and tell you not to use.
While you’re busy writing, there will be some periods of natural silence as you scribble frantically. I’ve discovered that, rather than being an awkward moment, most interviewees tend to fill the gap with all kinds of valuable information and impressions.
Don’t cut corners
It’s easy to be tempted to save time by emailing interview questions to someone but don’t do it! Seeing a person and/or hearing their voice is what adds depth and an emotional pull to your interview. Without these impressions in your mind as you’re writing, the words are likely to become sterile and bland. The goal is for the reader to be able to form a mental image of the person you’re writing about.
Do your research beforehand. Google your source, check them out on social media sites, and take a look at their website if they have one. Have at least four questions (I usually have ten to twelve) written down to get the conversational ball rolling. Even the most articulate person can suffer from stage fright or be having a bad day. “Poor preparation equals poor results” is my mantra and it’s never failed me!
Persevere when needed
I would say that close to half of the people I contact for interviews will initially demur saying something to the effect of “Oh I don’t really have anything to say.” Or “You should talk to this person instead. They’re much more _______ (fill in the blank) than me.” Rarely have I found this to be true. Everyone has something to say and it’s a writer’s job to ferret it out and help them express it in their own words. Other potential sources may try to control the interview in various ways-by making it impossible to find a day or time to meet or speak on the phone or by insisting on the right to read the piece before it is printed or posted (which I rarely agree to).
In both cases you’ll have to decide how badly you want the interview. Though I have been known to occasionally drop a story idea after several cancellations or because of too many roadblocks, my overall experience has been that some of the most resistant or difficult to pin down people are the ones who ultimately offer the type of quotes that a writer dreams of.
Other interview tips?