Eric May – Media Consultant
  

 

 

 

The secrets of good interviewing

Interviewing is the basic skill we all need to do our job. Without the interview, there’s no story. But it seems all interviewers are not created equal. Why is it that some reporters get compelling interviews time after time?

They seem to have a special gift for getting people to talk to them. For those of us who are less gifted, there are still some things we can do to guarantee a good interview (almost) every time.

Seem intelligent, informed, and interested

The first step to a successful interview happens well before the interview starts. Respect your interview partner enough to find out something about them. Do your homework. What is their power, their history, their problem? Find out.

It's effective because like everyone else, your interview partners are human and they like someone to take an interest in them. And in your research, if you found out something that interested you personally, be sure to ask them about it. They'll be grateful you took an interest.

Show some humanity. If your interview partner is in a particularly difficult or sensitive situation, put yourself in their position. Try to understand what they are going through.

Ask yourself: if a member of your own family were in the same situation, would you ask the question the same way and put it on TV? Respect them enough to understand that in what may be the most difficult moment of their lives, they have to endure a reporter's questions as well.

Listen and Keep Listening

The best interviews are a conversation, not a tennis match. Listen to what your interview partner is saying and then react to it.

Interviewing is not firing off one question after another. It's about asking a question, listening with interest, and honestly reacting to what you're hearing. Keep it conversational, but keep in mind the goal is to get good answers on tape.

Keep your questions short, let the answers go long. Let your interview partner talk, and don’t interrupt. But (especially with politicians and other professional talkers) know when to interrupt.

Be polite, and draw them back into the questions you want answered. Try listening techniques to reinforce your effectiveness. “Can you explain what you mean by that?” “What goes through your mind when you think about...?” are examples of phrases to that draw out answers and get your interview partner more involved.

Or try listening to the answer, then remaining silent for a moment or two before asking your next question. Sometimes your interview partner will fill that silent gap with something unexpected, and even good.

If you want to prepare a list of written questions, do so.
But once the interview gets underway, hide that careful list of questions away, out of sight, and refer to it only if you get lost.

Actively listen to what your interview partner is saying. Show your interest, but don’t show off how much you know. They are who the viewers want to hear from, not you. Discipline yourself to resist the urge to jump in with your next question: give your interview partner the chance to say what’s really on their mind, in their own way.

Trust

There is one quality the best interviewers have that separates them from the rest of us. It’s the ability to inspire trust in the people they are talking with, no matter who they are talking with.

The best interviewers are somehow able to convince even the most reluctant interview partners it's in their interest to do the interview anyway. How they do it differs from interviewer to interviewer.

At the most basic level, it’s about reaching an understanding between the reporter and interview partner that goes something like this: I won’t betray you if you let me tell your story to my audience.

That, however, doesn’t mean agreeing to telling only one side of the story. Not explaining that is betrayal. Take a professional approach. Carefully explain to your interview partner that you want to tell their story. Explain to them why you think their story is important.

Tell them as much about your story as you can, in advance of the interview. Treat your interview subject as a real partner. Show them how you think their interview will fit into the finished story.

Most importantly, be honest. Explain you’ll be reporting both sides of the story fairly, that each side will get a chance to express their viewpoint fairly and in a balanced way.

To win their trust, take an active interest in the person you are interviewing. Find out something about them and ask them about it. Sincerely listen to what they have to say and react to it.

Show some humanity and understanding. Treat them as a partner, not a subject. Your results will be better, and you might just become a better interviewer.