Six years ago, I reached out to fellow journalists and asked them to offer up their top tips for interviewing and reporting. I published the article, watched some of the traffic, and then promptly forgot about it after I moved on to the next project.
I didn’t realize how popular that article was until I wrote another article (for Forbes) about the secret to blogging sitting in your website stats. In that article, I asked bloggers to look at their Google Analytics to see which posts were driving the most traffic to their site. It’s a great exercise if you haven’t done it already. I did it and discovered that six-year-old article about interviewing tips is one of my most successful posts.
Here are my five favorite tips…
1. Reboot a failing interview
Sometimes interviewees have their shields up and they just don’t want to open up. As you keep pressing, they simply won’t reveal anything. For the moment, don’t push it. Pretend to end the interview. Engage in some small talk. After you’ve loosened them up, say, “Wait a moment. I just thought of something. Can we start again?” You do, and their on-camera performance is a lot better.
2. Throw a curve ball
If you’re conducting a lot of sports interviews, you’ll find yourself asking the same questions over and over again. Questions don’t need to be so linear to a traditional storyline. You can ask oddball questions that allow the interviewee to think creatively. For example, if you were interviewing an athlete, you could ask, “Which of your teammates would perform best on The Gong Show?” Or, “What rule would you like to change in the game?”
3. Repeat back the story in the middle of the interview
I lean on this tip a lot because I conduct many interviews covering very complicated technologies. Sometimes, I’m not confident that I fully understand the process/components/environment, so I’ll stop the interview midway through and say, “I’m going to repeat back to you what you just said, just to make sure I understand it. Please correct me if I’m wrong.” I inevitably get something wrong, or I leave a gaping hole in the story that they go on to fill in, which always provides excellent context for my piece.
4. Let the interviewee ask their own question
This is a simple technique to throw in at the very end of the interview. You’ve asked all your questions and you turn the interview over to the interviewees and let them ask their own question. Simply say, “Is there anything I’ve left out that you’d like to add?” About half of the time they do have something to add. The advantage of doing this is they walk away from the interview feeling they got a chance to say everything they wanted to say.
5. Trick them into getting the sound bite you want
This is a technique 60 Minutes uses all the time, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver put together a compilation to show how egregious this behavior can be. But if you want that sound bite, for text or video, simply prompt them with “Would you say ________?” And if they agree, they will inevitably give you the sound bite you want.
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