A good interview should flow naturally; we all know that strange sensation when we run out of questions and conversation ‘dries up’. Below are a few thought of mine – plus a few I’ve borrowed from here and there – on the subject of a successful interview. This can be a quick five-minute job to obtain a quote, or a week-long session with a ghostwriting client.
1. Find a suitable location.
In my experience, somewhere the interviewee feels comfortable. Take them out if you want, but often better results are obtained somewhere familiar. Try to avoid having other people around.
2. Prepare your goals ahead of time.
Know what questions you’re going to ask and why you’re going to ask them. Heading to an interview with a sense of what you want to get out of it is critical to conducting a successful interview.
You should already be thinking about what you want your piece to look like and what you need from this interview to get your article closer to that end result.
3. Write down your questions.
Be sure and bring prepared questions with you. But don’t make this a stacatto or stilted process. Think conversation – and be prepared to think on your feet.
4. Ask for what you need.
Some interviewees are frustrating because they just don’t understand what you want from them. Introduce yourself and be clear about why you’re there, and what you hope to achieve from the interview.
For the most part people want to be helpful, and you just need to tell them how they can.
5. Think about the medium.
I try (but don’t always succeed) to avoid interrupting during audio recording; instead I nod and smile in response. It doesn’t always work and sometime you need to intervene. Make sure you ask open-ended questions, not ones that require a yes or no response. For example – don’t ask ‘did you enjoy your day out sailing?’, instead, ask ‘what did you enjoy about your day out sailing?’
Another great trick for audio interviews is to have your subject re-enact the story. It makes for good sound and helps you avoid having too much of your own narration later on.
6. You can push a particular theme, but not too hard
Don’t be afraid to revisit a question or topic that you feel hasn’t been properly addressed by the interviewee. Sometimes people need time to warm up to you or a topic, or will respond better if your question is worded differently. Keep trying.
7. Empower your subject.
A great question to ask if you don’t fully understand the perspective of your interviewee is, “What is your ideal solution/resolution?” Obviously this only works in certain circumstances, but when appropriate it can help clarify a person’s point of view or opinion.
Another great question is, “Why do you care about this issue?” This can be an effective way to get a strong and emotional quote about why the topic you’re covering is so important.
8. Endure awkward silences.
Not easy, but it often elicites the best responses. Think therapy. Let the interviewee consider, and give them space to answer as fully as possible.
Ask your question, let them give you the rehearsed and generic answer, then sit there quietly and see what comes next. You’d be amazed how often this technique yields powerful results.
It’s amazing how many interviewer like the sound of their own voice! Sometimes the interview actually becomes the interviewer’s response to the interviewee. When your interviewee is speaking, an interviewer’s main role is to listen. Acknowledging their opinions with a nod of your head, or a simple ‘yes’, or ‘I see’ is a good way to show you’re listening without breaking their verbal flow.
10. Be interested
Avoid cutting people short if your time constraints allow it. You may not use the information they give you, but they will feel heard and people often open up more easily to other questions if they feel they’ve said what they wanted to say.