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Monday, March 17, 2014

 

Perfecting the Art of Interviewing

A few years ago, I received an assignment from a local magazine I write for that made me take pause. The editor wanted me to visit the home of a woman living with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and interview her about a foundation she had started after her diagnosis. I’ll admit that when I found out the woman communicated using an eye-tracking technology connected to a computer, I hesitated. I worried that I wouldn’t know the best way to communicate effectively with her. But I was also up for the challenge, so I accepted the assignment. I e-mailed her a list of questions ahead of time and arrived at her home on the day of the interview with my laptop and a notepad and pen so I could take notes.

I can honestly say that interview was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. She showed me how the device on her headband allowed her to communicate through her computer, compose e-mails, search the internet and turn everything she “typed” on her screen into speech so we could have an actual conversation. But what struck me the most was how gracious she was even while confined to her wheelchair with limited means of movement and communication. She asked me questions about my family and me and even complimented my work. It turns out she had researched me as much as I had researched her before our interview.

In my work as a blogger, journalist and magazine editor I’ve conducted countless interviews over the years. Some of them went very well like the example above, others did not, leaving me scrambling to pull together a polished article with less quotes than I had originally planned. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that make interviews run more smoothly:

1. Send a list of interview questions ahead of time. I always like to come up with at least four to five questions to least get the conversation started. I e-mail the person the list of the questions and tell them approximately how long the interview should last so they can plan accordingly.

2. Don’t go into an interview cold. We all have assignments that turn up at the last minute, but if you’re conducting a phone or in-person interview, spend some time researching the person you’ll be interviewing if at all possible. Focus on the areas of their life that align with what you’re writing. Is the person the head of a foundation? What other volunteer work are they involved in? How has their life path led to them to this point in time?

3. Be present and prepared. I often conduct interviews and then spend a few days soaking in the experience before I actually start to work on the article or profile. The best advice I can give here is to be a great listener. I either take notes by typing on my laptop (usually with phone interviews) and in person I use a combination of a recording app on my iPhone and notes by hand. If you are recording with a device periodically check to make sure it’s working and still recording. While it’s great to find common ground with the person you’re interviewing, strive for a balanced conversation. Try not to spend a lot of time talking about yourself and your interests unless the subject asks. If you’re interviewing in person, look around at your surroundings and takes notes on what you see. This can often provide a great introduction to your article.

4. Follow up. If you have any follow-up questions, e-mail them a soon as you think of them so your subject has enough time to send responses back to you before your deadline. And finally, be courteous; send the person a link to the article (or hard copy if applicable once the interview is published along with a “thank-you” note or e-mail.

What other tips can you offer when conducting interviews for blog posts and articles?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. She’s currently looking for a few more blogs to promote Frances Caballo’s book Avoid Social Media Time Suck: A Blueprint for Writers Who Want to Create Online Buzz for Their Books and Still Have Time to Write. You can contact her at renee@wow-womenonwriting.com.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Sioux said...

Renee--I've seen a couple of interviews where the final question is, "What question were you not asked but one that you would like to answer?" This gives the subject a chance to include some (hopefully) interesting tidbit that was not touched upon.

(I think Donna Volkenannt does this.)

Great post, as usual.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Sioux,
I ask "what question should I have asked but didn't?"
--SueBE

11:47 AM  

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