Now, that was a great interview
It’s not just PR folks and journalists who conduct interviews. Many business people conduct interviews, too, and I’m not talking about employment interviews. Whenever we ask questions because we are looking for answers we intend to use in a report, a presentation, a white paper, an article we are submitting to a trade publication, web or social media content or even a video, we are engaged in various forms of an interview. No matter the reason, the art of the interview is really the art of asking questions while making a personal connection. Doing that isn’t hard, but it does take practice.
Do your homework
For an interview with a subject who holds the information you need to complete an assignment or project, do your research ahead of time. Often, this is as easy as Googling the subject, and his or her area of expertise. Sometimes it means talking with other people who can share background and insight.
Occasionally, this can be challenging. We interview many patients for our healthcare clients, for example, and HIPAA laws prohibit the sharing of personal health information. Often, understanding the patient’s personal health situation is key to the story we’ve been charged with writing. So, like it or not, we go into the interview under-informed. That’s where a friendly, personal style can help.
It’s not an interrogation
Want people to open up and talk about what you’re really interested in? Start with a genuine interest in them and their situation. Avoid an insincere or perfunctory introduction, and strive for balance between respect and friendliness. You’re in the driver’s seat, so maintain your professional demeanor – and listen carefully and respond sincerely. Take this approach from your initial contact through any follow-up conversation.
It’s all about the questions
You did that homework for a reason – to understand your subject as thoroughly as possible, and to help develop questions that will draw out the information you need. Write down questions as you research, then develop a final list. The process of drafting the questions is essential for directing your own thinking and visualizing the interview ahead of time.
Strive for questions that elicit robust answers. Get the basics – who, what, when – and spend most of your time on why and how. Have some follow-up questions at the ready, and develop ease with a few more probing prompts like, “Can you help me understand that more clearly?” and “That’s interesting – tell me more about that.”
Go with the flow
The best interviewers are prepared – and flexible. That’s where the “art” comes in. If you’re closely following and listening during a phone interview, you’ll catch the subtle change in tone of voice that makes you ask a follow-up question you hadn’t planned on, or the off-hand mention that leads to a new question. Or, if the interview is in person, you’ll see the body language and make eye contact that could prompt a different way to ask the next question – a way that might be more respectful.
Step up your interview process and style, and when it’s all said and done, you and your subject will be able to say, “Now, that was a great interview!”