By Churchill Masheti
While interviews are typically conducted for a number of reasons, it is primarily a source of information for journalists and writers. Whether working as a staff or a freelance journalist, it is essential to have competent interview skills that will otherwise help you access relevant information in your line of duty. It is no secret that conducting a good interview requires nothing less than thorough preparation and proper execution of interview guidelines. In case interviewing others is part of what you do or wish to start doing, consider the following tips that are helpful in effectively conducting an interview.
1. Research about your interview partner
Before the interview date, make sure to research thoroughly about the person you intend to speak to. Look for any information that will be relevant to the interview topic. In the present day, with the rampant use of the internet, it is possible to search around for information about people, say for example, by taking a closer look at their social profiles such as Twitter and LinkedIn. This will enable you to have important background information about the interview partner, which will give you a clear view of additional topics that you could touch on during the interview. Checking out the interviews that have been done previously by your interviewee is an important tip, too. By that, you will be able to tailor your questions, leave out what has already been asked many times before, and gauge how the person reacts to specific questions. It is strongly advisable to avoid a shortage of information about your interview partner as it may send impressions of lack of preparation to the interviewee and prevent them from answering your questions openly.
2. Deep dive into the subject before conducting an interview
Knowledge of the subject goes a long way to help prepare the interview questions, and thus, research about the topic is essential. Thereby, the interviewer gets the best out of the discussion and gives an impression of readiness and command within the subject, making the interview worth it. It encourages the journalist to get more involved in the interview, especially when the topic happens to be the person’s area of expertise. Furthermore, a good interview lets you, and eventually, the readers, find out more information about a topic and not just the basics. This can only happen if you are adequately prepared for an in-depth talk.
3. Select a suitable interview location
It is necessary to give a thought about where to conduct your interview. The spot should ensure comfort to both parties involved, especially if you are working as a freelance journalist and not as a staff writer who can invite their interviewee to their office. Good ambiance will also bring clarity in the conversation since there would be no distractions, such as other people. Being comfortable will enable the interview partners to speak freely with much ease and with no fear of issues as privacy in case they are, e.g., a high profile individual in their country. Put into consideration the convenience of the location to both parties. The place should be accessible and free from any background noise as this may become hard to deal with when transcribing the recorded interview later. Sometimes, meeting in person may be impossible due to unavoidable circumstances such as differences in location, but video conferencing platforms may aid in this regard. In that case, you should also provide a secure atmosphere where your interviewee can speak openly without worrying about who might witness the talk on the other end.
4. Put down your questions for a guided interview in advance
Before showing up for the interview, you must be aware of what you are going to ask. These are the questions with which you will acquire information from your interviewee. This is why we advise you to write them down, keeping in mind the information you are aiming to uncover as well as the research you have done about the subject. It guides the direction of the conversation throughout the interview. However, you must understand that there are different types of questions, such as introductory and follow-up questions, that seek to get elaborations on initially asked ones. Here are some examples of how your interview like could look like:
- An introductory question could be, "What does media freedom mean to you?" Given the fact that your interview partner has knowledge about this topic, this question will be a rather easy start to get into the conversation
- The follow-up question could then be, "What is your assessment of media freedom in your country?" With this question, you prompt the person to elaborate more on the initial answer, and thus the person gives more information but while paying attention to it
- Try to stick to so-called open questions, which let the person answer in free form, rather than responding with only "Yes" or "No". By that, you will also receive more valuable input for your final article
- Be careful with giving leading questions as they are problematic and suggest to the interviewee what they should answer instead of encouraging them to speak their mind
Of course, it is not an obligation to strictly stick to your questions for the whole interview as other questions might pop in your mind in between the conversation and would be worth being asked.
5. What to do before the interview
Can you imagine how unprofessional it may look when you turn up late to an interview scheduled by yourself? Well, it is not only courteous to be on time, but it also shows the interviewee the importance you have accorded to your interview. Whenever possible, be at the interview venue with plenty of time to spare. If you have not been to the place before, it could be necessary to do some scouting and take notes about the surrounding just before the interviewee arrives. This will make you forget some important aspects of your subject that require a calm and composed individual to undertake. For journalists, it is standard practice to record an interview for purposes of transcription. However, it is crucial to ask for permission to do the recording. Let the interviewee agree to it and give you consent before you commence. It doesn't give a pleasant impression when an interviewee realizes that they are being recorded without their knowledge and can even lead to legal issues. And don't forget to keep your eye on the time to gather as much information you need, especially if the talk must not exceed a specific duration.
6. Help your interview partner feel comfortable
For most people, an interview situation is none of their daily business and can be stressful. Give it your best to have a pleasant conversation rather than an interrogation. When answering your questions during the interview, the interviewee must be accorded enough time to respond in detail to the best of their ability. If anything, that information is what you are after, and it only benefits you if the interviewee speaks more regarding the subject. This also allows you to understand the interviewee better and be alert if you spot the need for a follow-up question. It makes the interviewee feel appreciated for whatever they say as you attentively give them time to speak. The same applies to when they ask questions or seek clarifications. Start with the more straightforward questions so that the interviewee becomes comfortable as time goes by before you delve into the more demanding ones. This also ensures that the person grows into the conversation much easier and will let them open up more, which works perfectly well to your advantage. In some instances, you might have to skip some questions if the person doesn't have an answer right away or feels uncomfortable answering. Make sure you circle back to them later. It might payout to be persistent in getting a response to certain difficult questions, but you should always know when to respect the other person's boundaries. Leaving the interview on good terms will make the further process and communication easier and might give you the opportunity for a second interview.
7. After the interview
If possible, don't leave before checking your recording and going through your interview questions and notes. Make sure that you got everything right to be able to write and publish a great story efficiently. As an interview always involves a person's views and ideas, keep in mind that you should not change the meaning of what they said since it can lead to problems if the person feels that they are misrepresented. For some high-profile interviewees, assure them of confidentiality and their protection as a source of information. It's also likely that your interview partner or their management wants to check the quotes before they get published. Even if you're usually not obliged to do that, they might withdraw their consent to use their words at all.
PS: You conducted an interview that could be interesting for a broader, international audience? Check out how you can resell it to exclusive publications from all around the world via The Story Market here!