Interviewing: 6 ways to improve your technique

Photographer taking pictures of a journalist during the 1930s

Interviews – whether they are face-to-face or over the phone – are a fantastic way of gathering information. Not only are they handy for journalists, but copywriters, authors and bloggers will find them a gold mine of information.

People are fascinating creatures and often have stories to tell that you’d ever expect. But making the most out of the short time you have to speak to them is essential to get the information you need.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

1. Research beforehand

This won’t apply to all cases, but if it’s possible to gather a bit of background information then do so.

If they have an online bio, a company website or a LinkedIn profile then have a look and make notes on anything that may be of interest.

Similarly, if the interviewee is an author, artist, songwriter or film maker, try to have a look at some of their work. Refer back to elements of it during the interview – an artist may be more willing to answer your questions if they know you’ve made the effort to look at/listen to their work.

2. Jot down some key questions

Have a think about the essential information you’ll need to write your piece. Then, write down a few questions that cover those key points.

You don’t need to read them like a script, but they’re handy for ensuring you’ve covered everything you need to.

3. Start with an easy question

Ease your interviewee into the session by asking them a question that they won’t have to think about too much.

This could be something like:

  • How did you start…?
  • What does your role entail?
  • Can you tell me about your latest…?

4. Ask open-ended questions

Try to ask questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”. This will help to ensure that less chatty subjects give fuller answers.

Open-ended questions normally begin with:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • How

If your subject’s answers are still too short, don’t be afraid to say something like “tell me more about…” or ask further questions around their answer.

5. Engage with your interviewee

Interviews tend to work better if they’re like a conversation, so try to ensure that you engage with your subject.

Avoid staring at your notebook/keyboard. You can still scribble notes, but try to look up every so often to react to what the other person is saying.

  • Make eye contact
  • Nod
  • Smile/frown (depending on what they’re talking about)
  • Make noises of agreement

You can always practice by making notes when you’re watching TV or conduct a mock interview with a friend, family member or partner.

6. Follow up on the interview

Ask your interviewee if they’d like you to pass them the finished piece for fact checking. It’ll ensure that there are no embarrassing errors in your copy and also give them a chance to let you know if there’s anything that they don’t feel comfortable with.

More information

If you fancy learning more, Poynter has a great set of interviewing tips from Pulitzer Prize winner Jacqui Banaszynski.

Summary

Interviewing skills take practice, but these tips I’ve picked up along the way may help you to get enough information to create a winning story:

  • Do your research
  • Come up with key questions beforehand
  • Start with an easy questions
  • Reduce the risk of one-word answers
  • Treat it like a conversation
  • Follow up on the interview

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

 

 

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