Let’s say you want to interview a chef, restaurateur, farmer or author for a Question & Answer piece. Let’s say that person is famous and you don’t want to blow it.
You won’t if you follow a few rules:
1. Don’t waste the person’s time. Recently someone asked me to put aside an hour for an interview. I thought an hour was way too long, but I didn’t say anything.
I got what I deserved.
He spent the first half hour figuring out what to interview me about. I had to walk him through it, which irritated me, and that’s how we started the interview. Talk about starting on the wrong foot.
Most people who have an online presence have a website or articles written about them that you can find as easily as searching on their names. As you research, the content will lead you to write questions based on what would interest your readers most.
2. Do a ton of research. Sift through a mountain of information about the person, because that’s how you come up with the best questions. You can even review their posts on Facebook and Twitter and their bios on Linked In, if relevant.
3. Write questions that don’t lead to yes or no answers. Questions that start with “How did you feel about..” or “Tell me more about the time…” lead to great stories or quotes.
4. Set up a time to call or meet in person. State how long you’ll need and stick to it, then get ready. Yes, it’s easier to email a list of questions, but it’s not as good. People are busy and they might write one-sentence answers, or vague or uninteresting non-answers. Then you have to ask for longer answers, which annoys people. Plus, sometimes the best content comes when an interview goes in a whole other direction. There’s no room for that in an email.
I do most of my interviews by phone or Skype, in front of my computer. I use my Plantonics headset so my hands are free to type. If I’m meeting someone, I sometimes use a tape recorder for backup if I’m taking notes by hand. I make sure I ask the most important questions before time time is up.
5. During the interview, pay attention to your interviewee. Make sure your interviewee’s not bored or giving you unsatisfying answers. Don’t be afraid to switch questions, repeat a question (phrased slightly differently), omit a question to pick up the pace, or follow a new path to see where it leads.
6. Bonus Tip: Review the answers right after the interview, then shape the story. It’s best to go over the interview immediately see how many sentences you’ve typed that make no sense (believe me, it still happens). Try to recall them exactly or delete. Don’t rewrite them, ever. Ever. Cut out duplication, obvious answers, and any answer you can capture in a link if the Q&A will run online. Don’t start your finished interview with basic questions.
There are lots of reasons to interview. Sometimes you want to answer a question. Sometimes you just want to get close to someone you admire. The key is to shape the interview so it’s about something specific, and to make it relevant to your readers. Once you think you’re done, if you can’t write a headline or sum up the interview in a sentence, you’re not there yet.
You might also like these Q&As:
- Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman on What She Learned by Writing a Cookbook
- Food Blogs Should Inspire and Surprise, says Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle Et Vanille