How to conduct an interview
Are you considering getting into journalism? You better learn how to conduct an interview.
Interviewing is more than just asking questions. It’s about connecting with your source and encouraging them to talk freely. Good journalists not only take note of what is said but rather how it is said and what is not said.
Award-winning journalist and media expert, Leisa Goddard says the best piece of advice for an aspiring journalist is to try to interview in person. If you can’t, do it over the phone. If you can’t do it over the phone, interview by email.
Try to avoid suggesting an email interview immediately as it is quite unnatural. At least 50 per cent of communication is non-verbal – therefore you need these unspoken cues to attain a genuine response.
Conducting a good interview isn’t easy – it takes a lot of practice, however here are a few tips to learn to interview like a pro:
The only way to come up with good questions is to know everything there is to know about your subject. Research the individual or the subject and head into the interview with a sense of what you want to get out of it.
Write down your questions
Be prepared with questions, aim to have twice as many you are expecting to ask, but be prepared to ditch those questions to follow where the conversation leads.
Bring relevant materials
- A pencil
- A notebook
- A list of good questions
- A recording device.
Be on time
Arrive at your interview with plenty of time to spare. If you’ve never been to the place where your interview is taking place, go early and scout it out.
During the Interview
Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject’s own knowledge and/or feelings. They cannot be answered with a yes or no. Alternatively, closed-ended questions encourage short or single-word answers which isn’t what you are looking for. Open-ended questions also tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions.
Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as “Why” and “How”, or phrases such as “Tell me about…”. Often they are not technically a question, but a statement that implicitly asks for a response.
Keep it simple and short. Just ask the question.
You’re more likely to elicit a more genuine and forthcoming answer if you are personable and the interviewee wants to engage with you.
Get a title
Ask the interviewee ‘how would you like me to describe you’ or simply ask for their name and title. This is an informal agreement to use the job description given if needed and avoid printing long-winded or obscure job titles.
Additionally, always grab the name (get the spelling right), contact details, time and date of the interview and intended publication to make sure you cover all bases.
Try to not talk too much, listen instead
Always listen carefully to the answers. Embrace the silence. Each answer could lead to more questions or include an answer to a question you haven’t asked yet. Ensure you are also listening carefully to avoid asking a question that has already been answered. Your subject will know you weren’t listening and could be insulted.
While good notes and recording are very important, you can do yourself a disservice by obsessing about recording every little detail of what your subject says. In some cases, the questions you had will no longer be relevant thus you will have to work off the cuff which is fine. Most of the time you will uncover the information you never thought you would. Just focus on the subject and listen carefully.
After the Interview
Say thank you afterwards and if you can provide a copy of the final piece, do so.
Ensure you always grab the direct contact details for the individual if possible, as this may help you down the track. Connecting on social media is also a great way to stay up to date with the individual. You never know when you might need their input again. Small but important things such as this, go a long way.
Tips to remember:
- Avoid email interviews
- Prepare and research in advance
- Listen intently
- Always take time to ask the source to clarify complex or vague answers
- Don’t be afraid of uncomfortable silences and pauses
- Let the interview take its natural course
- Look the person in the eye when asking questions
- Be courteous.