So now you have an interview scheduled with a source you’ve been waiting to talk to. Excited? Nervous? How can you focus and get the most out of your source?
We talked in the last post about how to prepare and ask for an interview. We also described the three major types of interviews: email, telephone or video, and in-person. No matter what type of interview you’re conducting, you want to conduct it professionally and make your source, and your readers, glad you did it.
At this point, you should go over your research one more time to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Remember, you should know basic information about your topic and your source before you start the interview.
You should also make sure your questions are organized. Make sure you have a mixture of closed-ended (yes or no) questions to get specific answers, and open-ended questions to get your source’s thoughts and opinions.
If you’re conducting an in-person or video interview, rehearsing can help you be more comfortable, especially if you’re new at it. Get a friend to role-play the source so you get comfortable asking questions.
Conducting the interview
If you’re conducting an interview in person, dress business-like to show your seriousness and credibility. Your appearance can help the interviewee gain or lose confidence in you. Make sure you arrive on time, and stick to the time limits you gave the interviewee. If you told them the interview was going to take 30 minutes, make sure it only takes 30 minutes. If they want to talk longer, that’s up to them.
If you’re doing an email interview, and you told the source you were going to ask them six or seven questions, don’t send them twelve questions. Send them what they agreed to answer.
Building rapport is most important for in-person, phone or video interviews. This sets your source at ease and makes them less nervous. You can ask about something on their desk or shelf, or you can tell a story about something that happened to you that day. You can also simply ask how they’re doing.
As you begin asking your questions, take charge of the interview. An interview is basically a controlled conversation, but you’re performing a service to your readers. You need to get certain information.
You may have to assert yourself and be persistent in keeping the interviewee on topic to give you good answers. If the person refuses to answer a question or tries to evade it, ask again. No matter which type of interview you’re doing, you can try rewording the question.
In any type of interview, keep your questions focused and precise, such as: How did it feel? What do you think about…? What went through your mind when…?
Ask follow-up questions, such as: Can you give me an example? Can you elaborate? That’s interesting; tell me more about that. You can do this in-person easily, or you can do it via email once you receive the person’s original answers to your questions.
Be flexible and willing to go off-script. If the interview takes an unexpected turn, go with it. You may get unexpected material. However, if it’s just straying off into an unproductive tangent, redirect the person back to the topic.
If you’re talking to the person, don’t be afraid to ask them to slow down or repeat themselves so you can take notes. People talk faster than most of us can write or type. They will know you’re trying to be accurate, and usually won’t mind.
If the person can see you, use reassuring body language to keep them talking. Maintain eye contact and an open expression. Lean toward them. If you’re doing a phone interview, your reassurance will have to be verbal, such as: Mmmm-hmmm. Huh. Really? Wow.
If you’re talking to the person, one powerful technique to getting better answers to your questions is silence. If they give you a short or lame answer, or try to dodge the question, resist the urge to jump in. Remain quiet, pen poised to write, expression open, and wait. Chances are they’ll start talking again to fill in the silence. This technique may feel uncomfortable the first time you try it, which is where some rehearsal with a friend can help.
At the end of the interview, use one last question: Is there anything else I should ask you about? It gives the subject a chance to open up new topics.
After the interview
After the interview is over, there are a few more things you need to do. One is to make sure you say thank you. After all, they’ve given you their time and information. They didn’t have to do so.
Review your notes. Go through parts that are confusing or need clarification to make sure you have everything right. If you’ve conducted an in-person, phone or video interview, look back at your notes as soon as possible to make sure you have all the information you need.
If you need other sources, ask your interviewee who else you should talk to. They know people and can refer you to other sources.
Ask permission to call them back or email them. You may have more questions, or when you sit down to write, you may need to clarify the notes you’ve already taken. You can also ask them to call or email you if they think of anything else that might help your story.
Once you’re done writing your story and it’s posted on your blog, or the podcast is uploaded, send your source the link. Get their feedback. This keeps a friendly rapport and lets them know what you’ve done with their information. It may also pave the way to use them as a source in the future.
Now that we’ve talked about how to prepare and conduct an interview over the last two posts, I hope you have a better idea of some of the tips and tricks you can use to improve your interviewing technique. The only way to get better at conducting interviews is to do it. The more you do it, the more professional and less nervous you’ll be.
Interviews can add a lot to your blog or podcast, so don’t shy away from doing them. Embrace the chance to talk to expert sources. You and your readers or listeners will be better off for it.
Readers, what techniques have you used when you conduct interviews? Let us know in the comments!