We talk to people. That’s a big part of working in the communications field as a freelance writer, marketer or strategist. If you haven’t already, you will at some point conduct an interview and use the information gathered to write a blog post, feature article, notes for a ghostwriter, bio statement, ebook or even a newsletter story.
I started working in the newspaper industry in 1998 and have held down a full-time, part-time or freelance communications job since. I’ve done hundreds, maybe thousands, of interviews.
Today I thought it’d be fun to share some quick and simple tips for making the interviewing process less anxiety-inducing for both you and your interviewee because really, nobody chats well under pressure.
Choosing the Interview Location
Keep it casual. Whenever possible, I like to interview people in their environment, whether it’s their place of work, home or favorite coffee shop. I’ve even met up with folks at parks simply to enjoy the beautiful weather of the day, which also creates a relaxing vibe.
Steer clear of interviews conducted over a businesses lunch or dinner. It’s tough to focus on your words and table manners while a server interrupts you every ten minutes. Meeting over coffee or a drink is more casual and appropriate for some interviews.
Breaking the Conversation Ice
The first rule of interviewing is to never use the word interview. I like to say “Let’s chat about…” or use the words conversation, discuss and explore.
The idea of an interview feels ridged and a bit daunting to many people.
After introducing myself, I find something we’re both enjoying or have in common (the location, passion for the topic, etc.) and talk naturally. Then I segue into why I’m excited to learn more from them and let the conversation flow. I learned early on not to launch the interview with phrases like this:
- I have 38 questions to ask you today. Let’s get started.
- I need you to tell me everything you know about…
- I have a tight deadline. I just need you to…
- My boss has asked me to find out…
- I don’t know anything about this topic. I’m relying on you to…
Those approaches are sure to turn your conversation upside down before it even starts.
Keeping the Chat Moving Forward
Interviews can go off course quickly. Whether a question opens a Pandora’s box into another dimension of topics or the interviewee decides they only know the phrase, “I’m not really sure.” things may not go as hoped.
I’ll go backward in the conversation and bring up something that was intriguing and ask to expand on that. I try to pick up on ideas that make their eyes light up and parlay those into the upcoming questions.
You mentioned you find inspiration from X about Y. Did that inspiration also fuel your decision to…
Or, to get back on topic, I’ll use light humor about how they have so many great ideas and stories to tell, but today we need to focus on this topic. Then, I stay on track with my questions.
And a note about interview prep: Do it.
Be a journalist. Research the person you’re interviewing and their topic. Have thoughtful questions that relate to your article angle ready. Then, be ready to ebb and flow with the conversation, building naturally on their answers.
Truth: Sometimes I only ask my first prepared question and the rest of the conversation just flows, bubbling up ideas and thoughts that I would have never known about to ask. Follow those moments!
Making a New Contact
There’s a meme out there about how everyone you meet can teach you something. In the world of marketing and journalism, that’s never been truer.
If the interviewee shared valuable insight or other ideas you’d like to explore, ask how you can stay in touch. They might prefer text messaging, emails or social media.
Then, explain how you will follow-up related to the story you’re working on. Every source I’ve ever worked with has thanked me for giving them a time frame for when the content will be published and sharing where they can read it.
Is there another aspect to interviewing that’s difficult or confusing to you? Let me know! Your idea might spur a blog post here on Web Writing Advice. Check out my Contact page to get in touch or comment below.
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