If you’ve been following my posts you should be a primary source finding expert by now! But once you find your sources in the way of experts, what do you do with them? Today, I’ll talk about how to interview your experts to bring legitimacy and flair to your story.
If you’re able to contact the interviewee directly it can help to email or write ahead of time and maybe even send a sample of your work so they can see your writing. I think having confidence when you approach someone and making them feel that they will really help add value to your story, will go along way to having them agree to the interview.
Many people believe that unless you’re doing a piece on the person you’re interviewing, you probably don’t need to meet them because you’re only interested in facts and not details about the person that you could only get from observing them. I’ve done all three types of interviews (in person, phone, and email), and I prefer in-person because I think you can come away with a depth that you may not get otherwise. But sometimes, in-person is not feasible, or the person may not be willing to do it.
The second best method is a phone interview because it’s more conversational than email and it helps you to ask additional questions or qualify answers immediately instead of going back and forth emailing each other.
Email can have its advantages though. Sometimes, that may be the only way you can contact someone, especially if they’re a big name. And, your response time of getting questions answered may be much quicker than if you have to wait to set up a phone interview. Also, if you just need something quick from someone to back up research or provide a short quote, email can be the best way to go.
If you do decide to conduct a phone interview, you may choose to use a recording device so you don’t have to take frantic notes. This can also work for an in-person interview. If you do, be sure to ask permission first before heading into the interview. Also, test your recorder before you start just to make sure it’s in working order.
Once you know you can contact the person and have decided on how you will conduct the interview, prepare as well as possible by learning all you can about your interviewee and their field. This will help you to be more confident and develop better questions. Then, create a list of questions you need to have answered. You may want to number them based on priority in case your interview gets cut short. Spend some time practicing actually asking the questions. It’s your job to make the interviewee feel as comfortable as possible and to want to give you information, so make sure you’re not coming across as an interrogator. Your interview should be as conversational as possible.
In the interview, start with the basics of the correct spelling of their name and job title. Do that right away before you forget. Then ask a couple general questions just to get things rolling. This will also help you see what kind of interviewer the person is. Make sure your main questions are specific enough to get the detailed information you need. And keep in mind that not everyone is a good interviewee so there will be times where you’ll have to do some teeth pulling to get your information. You may also want to have some follow-up questions, asked from a different angle, prepared in case your first attempt doesn’t get you very far.
Some, however, love to ramble on and on, especially about themselves. If this is the case, your job will be to keep the interview focused and to learn how to politely transition from one question to another. You should be doing most of the listening while your interviewee does most of the talking.
Make sure your interview doesn’t come off like a bunch of rapid-fire questions. Let the person’s response help create your next question. Allowing the person to share additional information aside from just answering your question usually ends up giving you your most valuable information. After the question has been sufficiently answered, pick another question from your list that seems to flow well with what you have just discussed. This will also help keep the conversation moving smoothly.
When you’re wrapping up the interview, don’t forget to ask for referrals. Chances are the person will know other people you can talk to, and now you’ll have a name to use to get to that person. And ask if you could get a mailing address where you might send the person a thank-you card. And be sure to do so!
I love to hear from anyone regarding funny interview stories or maybe interviews gone bad if you’d like to share!