The other night I was watching a movie—a reporter, a scandal…the standard stuff. Except whoever wrote this movie never went on an interview with me. So I thought I’d tell you what they got wrong about interviewing and what it’s like in real life. Or at least in my life!
1. Jumping into the tough stuff – Our movie reporter jumped right into the city government scandal with the first question. If you’re doing an interview, make a friend first. Ask a few easy questions you already know the answers to(yes, questions you where you know the answers!). The person gets comfy chatting with you and you get to observe them since you won’t be scribbling down answers.
2. Meet me at the corner diner – Yes, it’s the standard interview spot if you believe movies. Restaurants are terrible interview spots. First, they’re noisy. Second, some people feel awkward talking when others can overhear. Third, too many distractions…food, waitresses, crying babies…can interrupt a person’s train of thought.
3. Let me get out my notebook – Every reporter whips out his spiral notebook in the movies. Do you know shorthand? Me neither. And people are touchy about you quoting them exactly. You need a recorder also. Actually I use both since you never know when your technology will cut out. You can also use your notebook to record their reactions…he played nervously with his cellphone when he said this, she almost jumped out of her seat when she said that…so you can make the people come alive in the article. Also, you notebook should have every technical word and names spelled correctly. Even something straightforward like John Smith. You just never know.
4. Ah-ha! – How many times have movie reporters surprised a reluctant source in their gym, apartment hallway, office? Maybe you’re the next Woodward or Bernstein on the trail of shifty politicians but most of us aren’t writing about such controversial topics. In my experience most people would love to talk to you. Stalking is not required! People always want publicity for something…their company, their book, their discoveries. And you’re the perfect person to help them get their info to the public. You’ll be surprised. Even the most well-known “they would never agree to talk to me” people oftentimes will, as long as you present yourself as a professional. No jumping out from behind parked cars at them!
5. Writers Are the Boss – We wish! No matter what we write there’s usually an editor lurking in the background deciding on the slant, publish date, article length. Sometimes this stinks. But often it can also work to your advantage. Whenever someone you interview wants to delve into other subjects , approve the article, or asks for a mention of their latest book, etc. you have that anonymous editor to blame. “I would, but my editor…”and a sad shake of your head usually makes those requests disappear.
Good luck with your next interview. Make a new friend. Have fun. Get the story. But most importantly…spell their name correctly!
Jodi Webb has written hundreds of magazine articles, organizes WOW! Blog Tours, and writes the Words by Webb blog at http://jodiwebb.com . She’s also teaching the online class Finding Experts and Interviewing Them for the WOW! Classroom starting May 11. h