Love them or hate them, interviews tend to make some of the best stories if they’re done right. Unfortunately, some writers and journalists may find it tough to probe and get interviewees to open up. Well, fear not because in this article we’ll be dishing out some age-old interview tips to get you the story you want.
Keep it simple
Your questions shouldn’t require a lot of setup or framing. To use a courtroom term, you shouldn’t be “leading your witness”. Allowing your interviewees to express themselves fully is one of your utmost priorities as an interviewer.
Be as straight forward with your questions as you can, and don’t beat around the bush. You should only be talking 20% of the time, or even less than that. You may have to break this rule a little if your interviewee is particularly closed off.
Be a gracious host
The first thing you’ll need to do when you meet your interviewees is to make them feel as comfortable as possible. No one is going give up anything to you if they feel uneasy or if the don’t like you.
Be warm, smile and pleasant. Think Oprah! Be excited when you greet your interviewee, especially if you think they aren’t used to such treatment or if they seem nervous. Once they’re at ease, you’ll be able to have a more productive session.
Don’t put your interviewee on the defensive
Never make your interviewee go on the defensive, it’s unlikely you’ll get anything substantial when they’re in that frame of mind. When asking controversial questions, instead of “Why did you manipulate your company’s accounts?”, try “Can you share with me the reason behind your company’s current accounting practice?”. ‘Why‘ sounds accusational and begins the conversation on a wrong foot.
Humanising your interviewees is a good way for them to open up to you and also a great way to get more angles and develop a better story.
Have a conversation
Boring interviews are the product of placeholder questions being asked one after another. Instead of preparing questions, a better way to plan an interview would be to have a few talking points in mind.
Sure, you could plan a couple of questions at the beginning, but allow the interview to flow in a natural way, much like a conversation. Gently steer the conversation towards your talking points instead of going straight to it.
Never ask yes or no questions
If you’re getting one-word answers, you’re probably asking the wrong questions. It can be difficult to get interviewees to open up, especially in a traditionally closed off society. Instead of asking definitive questions, leave things open.
A question like “Where did you go on your holiday?” can be improved with something like “What do you look for when you decide on a holiday destination?”. Incorporate as many opportunities as you can for your interviewee to inject their own thoughts and personality to make things livelier.
Watch other interviews
Doing your research seems to be a bit too obvious to put on the list, but one aspect of research and preparation that’s overlooked more often than you’d think is watching or reading other interviews of your interviewee.
Doing so will not only allow you to profile your interviewee, but also avoid well-trodden territory. Studying patterns will also allow you to anticipate responses and prepare follow-up questions.
Keep the audience in mind
Always remember that the audience should be the ultimate benefactor. Structure your questions with that in mind. It’s easy to assume what your audience wants to know is also what you may want to know. But that might not always be the case.