This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and it’s only in the last week when I had a conversation about this with a friend that I decided I had to put these thoughts into words. Over the last half decade of interviewing hundreds of different people ranging from C-level execs, tech startup entrepreneurs, Hollywood actors, politicians etc. I’ve become quite aware of when I’ve done a remarkably good interview and when an interview has fallen flat.
The Art of Interviewing. It’s a skill set all journalists have to learn, whether they enjoy doing it or not; it’s the backbone of every story. It’s possibly even something they’ve always done without realizing it. If they’ve always been the type to be curious enough about people and the world around them to ask questions constantly, chances are, they have the right basis for conducting a good interview.
Interviewing is more than just asking questions, though. Any journalist will tell you you should be throughly RESEARCHED about the person or topic so you avoid any redundant questions and can dig deeper than the information you can simply Google online. That is if you’re doing a more in-depth feature or profile. Hard news usually asks you to stick to the five Ws and one H: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How (if it’s relevant, of course. Don’t be afraid to use your common sense).
On the topic of questions, you should go into an interview prepared with a list of five or six of them. But AVOID READING them to the interviewee. The key to a good interview, in my experience, is to make it a conversation. It makes the interviewee much more comfortable and at ease, which usually leads to better responses. A level of professionalism is important to maintain, but if you can chat to your interviewee like a close acquaintance, you’ll be pleased with the gold you’re able to get out of them.
Quite possibly the most important thing to remember is to LISTEN. It might seem straightforward, but it’s something a lot of journalists, including myself, have had to practice to become comfortable with it. Yes, as an interviewer you’ll have a certain agenda (even though we’re all taught to be objective) with the list of questions you want answered. But if you really listen (like a conversation with a good friend) you’ll be able to follow up on tangents you may not have even considered, that add a unique (or even more relevant) angle to your piece. You may end up telling the story that REALLY needs to be told instead of what’s been assigned to you.
The final thing to remember (mostly if you’re doing an audio or video interview) is to NOT be afraid to interrupt your interviewee. No one wants to hear/watch an answer that goes on for 10 minutes. Again, this is where listening plays a role. Listen to what the interviewee is saying and if it’s going on for too long, take the lead again. It’s YOUR interview, after all. Take control. But don’t be a douche about it, of course. Do it elegantly:)
Note: Absolutely feel free to forwarn your interviewee of how long the final piece is going to be so they know to keep their responses concise (again, specifically more useful if it’s going to be an audio/video interview).
These are all little bits of etiquette that I have found to be of use over the last few years. Of course, not everyone does it the same and different journalists will have other techniques that work for them. But if you can keep these in mind, I can guarantee you’ll have a pretty great starting point.