It’s OK to be a little nervous before interviewing someone, but don’t let it worry you too much. If you’ve followed the steps from last week about preparing for a great interview, you’re already moving in the right direction. Now that it’s time to talk with the person, follow these five things to make your interview a success.
1. Be the reminder. Just like you can’t remember every possible question without writing them down, the person you talk with might not remember why you’re interviewing him or her. Take a minute to remind him or her that this is for the school newspaper or a history class assignment or whatever. If you have certain things you’re supposed to include in the interview, mention that, too. It will help your interviewee to know the kinds of questions you’ll be asking.
2. Double check everything. Once you’re ready to begin the interview, take one very important step before asking the first question on your list. Ask the person how to spell his or her name, and verify other details you’ll be including in your article. For example, if you’re interviewing an author about her new book, you’ll want to get the title right. If the new coach says he went to college at USC, ask whether he means the University of South Carolina or the University of Southern California. Every detail matters.
3. Let them talk. You don’t want the coach to talk about his vegetable garden when you’re trying to learn his plans for basketball season. But you also don’t want to be so focused on your list of questions that you don’t give him the chance to talk about some things he enjoys. You might learn some great stuff once he starts talking about something a bit different, but don’t let him hijack your whole plan.
4. Ask the best question. Even after many years of writing, I’ve learned that no matter how well I prepare, I’ll still probably leave a question off my list. That’s where my “one best question” comes into play. When we’re nearing the end of the interview, I ask, “What would be the one thing you’d want people to know about _________?” I fill in the blank or maybe change the question a little, depending on the situation. For an author, I might ask, “What’s the one thing you hope people will learn by reading your book?” For the grandfather who flew in World War II, I might ask, “What was the one thing that surprised you most about flying during a combat mission?” The “one thing” question has given me some of the best answers during interviews with all sorts of people. It can work for you, too, no matter who you interview.
5. Leave the door open. Just because your time runs out doesn’t mean the interview ends. Once you sit down to write, you might think of other questions or you might need help remembering something. That’s OK – professionals can find themselves in the same situation. As you end the interview, thank the person for his or her time, and ask if you can call or email if you have questions once you start writing the article. I can virtually guarantee they’ll say “yes.”
Your turn: If you could ask one person one question, who would it be and what would you ask?