Do you regularly write blog posts, articles or press releases? Are you often researching and seeking ways to tell a story or better explain a topic? To make your content fresh, you need information that is different from all the other stuff out there on the Internet and in the media biosphere. Sometimes the perfect quotes or information from interviewing a specific person can help you create a blog post, article or press release that gets noticed.
Have you ever wanted to interview in the style of Terry Gross, on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air? Gross has a way of getting her guests to say things to her that other interviewers never seem to be able to emulate. Well, that takes practice, and lots of it, but even without years of practice, you can still aim to create original content by using interview tactics that make your subject feel free to talk and give you interesting information.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years from my own experience and from others to conduct effective interviews. Note that some of these tactics work best with willing subjects; interviewing “hostile witnesses” is a whole different ballgame.
- Be prepared! Do your research before ever speaking to the person who can give you direct quotes and information. Set up a list of questions and know your topic, because if you don’t, it will show.
- Start with small talk. Don’t just dive in with the topic you’re researching. Some people are a bit unnerved by an interview and find the process to be somewhat difficult. Start by asking where they’re from, where did they go to college, what was their first job - something that can be soft and manageable for them to just chat about. Typically, people like talking about themselves, so a soft start helps builds trust, and people who trust, talk.
- It’s not a game of 20-Questions, so take it slow. You want to entice your interviewee to tell you things, not hammer them with question after question to get to the good stuff. A good interview takes patience, not force. Design your questions to elicit information in small blurbs by dissecting the topic into small portions, if possible. Be prepared to give your subject time to answer.
- Ask open-ended questions. These are the ones that don’t allow for only a yes or no answer. It’s best to allow the person you’re interviewing to speak freely and answer with more than a one-word answer.
- Don’t get stuck in a box. Allow your interview subject to talk, and if you don’t stick to your prepared questions; it’s okay. You may find out something you didn’t expect, making your story take a different turn or giving you material for another story or blog post.
- Maintain control of the interview. I know, this seems completely opposite of what I just said, but you do have to maintain some semblance of control, if for nothing else than the sake of time and efficiency. Keeping an interview on track may take some practice, especially if you are interviewing someone who enjoys talking or simply says what comes into their heads.
- Listen, listen, listen and listen some more. Give your subject space in between questions and listen up. Allow a bit of silence. A few seconds in between is good and allows your interviewee that chance to think. Don’t interrupt, and don’t interject your own experiences or ideas. It’s not about you.
- Make this your final question: In my years of doing research for articles, blog posts and press releases, there is one question with which I typically end each interview: “Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important for people to know?” After you’ve gone through your prepared questions and veered off onto other paths and come back again, this question gives the interviewee a chance to state, or restate, the most important points.