October 10, 2007
Interviewing is an art that requires a certain amount of finesse. If you’re planning on hosting a podcast or radio show, jumping in without any experience whatsoever can lead to awkward pauses, fumbling questions, and a generally dull interview.
It comes naturally to some people, but for others, the mere thought of doing an interview makes them break out in hives. If you’re one of the second group, here are a few tips for you to remember when preparing for and conducting an interview.
1) Do your research, and have a list of questions prepared.
Nothing’s worse than getting on the phone or sitting down for an interview and having to fly by the seat of your pants. Some people can work that way, but by and large most of us need some guidelines. Otherwise, you’ll end up looking unprepared and unprofessional, which is not a good way to start off an interview.
Before you interview somebody, do your research on them and formulate a list of questions to ask. You should have about six questions ready to ask, but not too many more or you’ll be more concerned with following your own agenda in the interview. You just need a good starting point. Plus, it’ll be helpful to have a “cheat sheet” there to remind you of what questions you need answered.
2) Always ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are questions that require a certain amount of explanation. “Do you like bunnies?” is not an open-ended question, because your interviewee could easily answer “yes” or “no” without adding anything else. “What do you like about bunnies?” is an open-ended question, because it requires interviewees to detail exactly what they think
By asking open-ended questions, you eliminate the chance of your interviewee giving you a simple one-word answer. Few things are more boring than listening to an interview where one person only says “yes” and “no,” and it stymies the conversation. If you don’t ask an open-ended question, be sure to follow up with “Why?”
3) Follow the conversation.
Although you are trying to get information in an interview, what’s equally important is that you not try to force the interview in a predetermined direction. When that happens, the interview sounds more like a question-and-answer session instead of a dynamic, informative conversation. It can also seem like you’re ignoring your interviewee in favor of your own agenda.
As you conduct the interview, your interviewee might say something that warrants a detour from the topic of conversation you had in mind. It’s okay to steer them back on topic if they’re going far from the direction you need, but follow it up if they say something interesting. The new direction may have a few pearls of wisdom that you’d never find otherwise.
4) Listen and respond.
During an interview, don’t just sit there and think about what you’re going to say or ask next. Listen to the person you’re interviewing and respond to what they’re saying. Tie it in to other points they’ve made or to other points you’ve made. An interview should be dynamic and interactive, almost a conversation (with the focus on your interviewee), especially if you’ve got people listening.
If you just sit there like a lump on a log, or ignore what the other person’s saying, then you’ll not only make your interviewee feel like you don’t listen, but you’ll make the interview downright boring. And if your interviewee feels like you don’t listen to them, chances are they won’t be back for another chat.
5) If you get stumped, try the Eliza approach.
Eliza was a computer program developed in the ’60s that parodied the responses of therapists who answered their clients’ statements by repeating the statement back to them in the form of a question. For example, if someone said, “I feel like I’m a jerk,” the program might say, “Why do you feel like you’re a jerk?” or “Why do you say that?”
If you find yourself grasping for questions, listen to what your interviewee says and either repeat a statement back as a question, or ask them to expound on a point that they’ve made. It’ll give you a little bit of leeway, and your interviewee’s response may give you what you need to get back on track.
6) Always ask “Do you have anything else to add?”
Every journalist has been trained to ask this at the end of interviews, and if they haven’t been, they should’ve. Asking “Do you have anything else to add?” or “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” inevitably leads to the answer, “No, not really, just that (insert pearl of wisdom here).”
You’ll get the best quotes by asking this question. Ask it at the end of every interview. There are no exceptions. Get in the habit now.
Practice makes perfect. It may seem like a lot to remember, but try to follow these tips in every interview you do. Eventually it’ll get easier, and you may find that interviews are no longer a dreaded chore but a fun and entertaining addition to your podcast.
Author: Jessica Cox and Michelle Pierce are graduates of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Journalism with a background in Internet marketing and writing for the Web. They currently provide PR services at Xeal Precision Marketing. Sign up for a free 25-point website evaluation and pick up crucial tips at Xeal’s free Thursday webinar at http://www.xeal.com/webinar.