Interviewing is more than a skill — it’s an art. The order of your questions, the way you phrase them, and the tone of your voice all impact the way a person will respond to you. By carefully crafting your interview questions and paying attention to how your source responds, you’ll be more likely to gather compelling, engaging tape for your story.
KNOW YOUR TYPE
The style of an interview depends a lot on your relationship to the person you’re talking to. If you’re interviewing an expert, you’ll use different words, tone, even posture than if you are talking to a friend. You’ll also use different interviewing strategies depending on the angle of your story — if you feel your source is hiding something, for example.
When we think of the word “expert,” many of us picture a doctor, lawyer or professor. But an expert can be anyone who has a lot of knowledge or experience that you can to tap into for a particular story. We often interview experts when we need a complicated process explained, or if we need someone to speak about broader trends for a story. When looking for the right expert to talk to, think about someone who is:
Good at explaining things and/or a dynamic storyteller
Acknowledged in the field, meaning he or she has written about the topic or has been recommended by others as a knowledgeable source
Representative of the diversity of the population. For example, women and people of color are often underrepresented in the media as sources of analysis and expertise. You have an opportunity to change that.
Once you find your expert, you’re going to want to spend some time researching him or her, and writing questions ahead of time. To help, we’ve created: YR Tips For Interviewing Experts.
In normal conversations, we “interview” people we know all the time. But casually saying hello to a friend or relative can feel really different than sitting down with them with a goal in mind. You’ll want to capitalize on your familiarity with your interviewee to get the best stories and answers as possible, but also keep in mind that your conversation can’t be so filled with inside jokes and references that other people won’t understand what you’re talking about. To set the scene for a strong interview with someone you know, it’s a good idea to:
Sit next to them instead of across from them – this position facilitates intimacy and can feel less formal than other types of interviews.
Interview them in a place that’s meaningful to them – their room, home or favorite spot will make for a better scene than a loud, sterile place like a busy coffee shop.
Go into the interview with set goals. It’s really easy to let conversations wander when talking to friends and family. Know the kinds of answers you’re looking for and redirect the conversation if it strays too far from the main point.
The phrase “something to hide” makes it sound like we’re talking about interviewing a spy or super villain about their plans for world domination. But really, “something to hide” interviews are about getting information that a character may be hesitant to share. This doesn’t mean they are good or bad people, but it does mean you should tread carefully when structuring your interview. Examples of “something to hide” interviews include:
Experts who work in Public Relations (PR) and may try to redirect the framing of the story
People who have created products or services with controversial/unintended consequences
People who stand to gain or lose a lot from the interview (good press, bad press)
While it can feel awkward to probe someone for hidden information, know that it’s part of your mission as a journalist to report as accurately and thoroughly as possible. You are doing your readers/listeners a service by asking thorough questions, and getting to the truth is a powerful reward.