Three Helpful Tips for Conducting InterviewsPosted: April 18, 2009
Regular readers of this blog know that interviewing is one of my favorite freelance activities. Preparing for the interview is not always fun — researching can sometimes be extremely work-intensive. But if you are properly prepared, actual interviews can be fun — you meet interesting and important people, you learn first-hand information about intriguing topics, and some interviews allow you access to locales you otherwise may not have enjoyed.
I’ve done countless interviews over my freelancing career and along the way I’ve picked up many interviewing tips, often from other writers. Below are three that I have found very valuable.
1. Paul Friggens, formerly a roving editor for Reader’s Digest, advises writers to spend enough time preparing for the interview. “One very able interviewer I know spends at least three days getting ready for an interview, learning all he can about a person. As the veteran political reporter and Washington columnist Roscoe Drummond says, ‘You can’t get the right answers unless you know the right questions to ask.'”
2. According to Shirley Biagi, author of “How to Write And Sell Magazine Articles,” visual observation sets the scene for your reader. “Your job is to place the reader in your seat, to discover for the reader through your profile what you discover about your subject, therefore seeing—not just looking—is very important.”
She also advises you to pay close attention to the postures of those you interview. “Try to lure a businessperson out from behind the desk to sit in the office chairs, or lead a scientist from the laboratory to the university’s gardens. Any tactic you can use to relax your interviewee will make your interview, and your profile, warmer and more revealing.”
3. In his book, “Stalking The Feature Story,” William Ruehlmann notes: “You don’t learn anything when you’re doing the talking.” His point is well taken — the interview is about the interviewee, not about the writer, so learn to keep comments to yourself. “Half the battle of getting strangers to talk to you is won when you indicate an interest in what they have to say. That’s flattering. How many people asked you for your views today? The rest is a matter of encouraging individuals to keep it up, easily accomplished by judicial nods and responsive grunts.”
My own interviewing tip: Look for two excellent books, “The Craft of Interviewing” by John Brady and “The Writer’s Complete Guide to Conducting Interviews” by Michael Schumacher, both published by Writer’s Digest Books. They can be found in many bookstores and most public libraries.
© 2009 Laverne Daley
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