Tips for Effective Interviews

Photo of reporter's notebook by grafixtek on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
Photo of reporter’s notebook by grafixtek on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I’m working with the local newspaper on some articles. I’ve been doing several interviews because of that. In the process, I’ve learned — or rediscovered — some things.

  • Have at least 10 questions ready.
    I have discovered that if I go in with fewer than 10 questions, I don’t get enough usable material. I struggled to pull articles together. Once I figured out that I needed to ask more to get more, it became easier. One thing, though: If you ask a closed question, one that can be answered with a simple yes or no answer, ask another open question where they have to elaborate. Or ask why.
  • Treat the interview more like a conversation.
    If you go in acting like this is a formal interview, your source will be stiff and uncomfortable. They won’t open up the way you need them to. If they don;t open up, you get short answers. Getting them to open up is key to getting them to talk more about the subject at hand. Don’t be afraid to let them go on a tangent. You might be surprised at how relevant it turns out to be later on.
  • Take notes.
    Taking notes is important. It shows your source that you take them seriously and believe they will have something good to say that you will want to remember. I advocate taking notes even if you are recording your interview because batteries die and — particularly with digital recorders — recordings can be deleted or become corrupted.
  • When possible, record the interview.
    When you take notes, you use abbreviations. Sometimes you don’t remember what those abbreviations mean when you go to transcribe your notes. It is also possible that there will be too much information to take adequate notes and you risk losing a good quote if you’re not recording. There will be times when your source won’t want to be recorded, though, and you have to respect that.
  • Be gracious.
    People are busy. Be sure and thank them for taking the time to meet with you. If possible, follow up with a thank-you note, especially if it was a “big” interview.

There you have it. These are just a few of the things I’ve learned/rediscovered while doing interviews over the past month. Hopefully you get some benefit from it.

Grinding Gears

Image used courtesy of The Public Speaking Project under a Creative Commons license.
Image used courtesy of The Public Speaking Project under a Creative Commons license.

There’s a saying about people who are new to driving a standard and have trouble finding their gears.

“If you can’t find ’em, grind ’em.”

I feel like that’s happening to my mind today.

Earlier I said I’m stretching my skill set. My grandpa said, “You’re expanding your skill set.”

He’s right.

It’s a matter of perspective.

Stretching a skill set implies that it’s temporary and that I would forget it soon after I no longer need it.

Expanding a skill set, on the other hand, implies that I am learning things that will be beneficial to me in the long run and it won’t be something I would soon forget.

Since I have often said that I am a perpetual student, I much prefer the latter.

In the meantime, I’ll be grinding gears until it becomes second nature. Much like driving a stick-shift.

Skype for Interviews

I have had a Skype account for quite some time. I’ve used it a few times, particularly when my nieces spent the night and Face Time wouldn’t work on my mom’s iPad.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I needed to do an interview with someone who is currently in a different country. I knew she wouldn’t want to do a phone call, international rates being what they are, so I thought we would end up having to do it via email.

She suggested Skype. I had never thought about Skype for interviews. It was a wonderful idea! The interview went very well and I’m already almost half-way finished with the article.

I know many people use Skype on a regular basis. Yes, we had a few glitches, some on my end and some on hers. Overall, it was a 20-minute conversation that would not have been possible otherwise. Now?

Now I can meet my deadline. And I got a reminder of a great tool that I need to remember to use more often.