Interviewing people is a blast, but it can also be a little stressful. Asking questions is easy. Asking the right questions is hard.
When you get the opportunity to interview other people, you get to step into their world for a moment in time. The goal is to see the world through their eyes, so you can share their perspective with other people.
If this is something you’re interested in doing but don’t feel like you’re very good at, here are some tips I’ve picked up after more than a decade of interviewing people in chase of the story.
Before the interview, be sure to …
Google the name of the person you’re going to interview. If they lead an organization, google that name, too. It’s amazing what you can learn from a few simple searches.
Check Wikipedia. See if there is an entry for this person and the organization they led or represent.
Visit the place of business, organization, or church in advance of the interview. Try to get a sense of the environment in which the subject thrives.
Identify what you need to find out in advance of the interview. This will help you organize your thoughts.
Write out a series of open-ended questions. Questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no don’t encourage conversation. The best stories are hidden within the conversation that arises from the questions.
Expect the unexpected. Interview preparation is often a solitary activity, but the interview itself should be a dialogue. Know your material and subject well enough to ask questions in the flow of the conversation. Be prepared to go “off script” if the opportunity arises.
Follow up with any additional questions after the interview. Something may become obvious after you’ve thought about what you’ve discussed. Instead of writing off the opportunity to ask that particular question, ask for permission to follow up before you end the initial interview.
A few other tricks of the trade are to …
Record an audio version of the interview. Be sure to get the person’s permission in advance.
Transcribe the audio file so you can see it in written form. This is helpful if the final product will be a written piece. It will help you jump-start the writing process.
Take notes during the interview. Just because you are making an audio recording doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take notes. It shows you are engaged and will help you stay on task.
Practice asking your questions to a friend or peer in advance. This is especially if the interview is with an important official or someone that might intimidate you. It will help take the edge off.
Interviewing other people is a lot of fun. It’s one of the things about my work I really enjoy. Learning about interesting people and the search for the story is enough to keep me coming back to the interview process time and again.
What have you learned from interviewing other people?
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