No matter your job title, professionals often find themselves writing articles, blog entries, presentations or reports that require a few interviews. Any journalist will emphasize the interview’s crucial role. Yet, I find that business writers often gloss over the interview, thinking that gleaning any information is a success.
With some simple preparation, your interviews will be more successful, making the actual writing easier.
- Schedule ample time: Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to ensure you aren’t rushed during the interview. Generally, my interviews last 30 minutes, so I always schedule a 45-minute meeting.
- Offer the interviewee a set of prepared questions: Some writers disagree with this suggestion, believing prepared questions lead to rigid answers. In my experience, offering a list of questions a few days in advance shows that you respect their time and helps you jump right into things during the interview. Some interviewees won’t even read your questions, while others will prepare well-crafted, detailed responses that you never would have received if you asked them the question cold during the interview. I like to email the interviewee no more than ten questions that I consider crucial. During the interview, I’ll ask several more follow-up questions to their responses (tip 4).
- Begin the interview by introducing yourself and the project: The interviewee will feel much more relaxed if they feel they know where you are coming from. This is especially important with phone interviews, which can be impersonal. Take your time to describe your position and your goals for the project.
- Ask lots of follow-up questions: As the interviewee responds to your prepared questions, make sure that you ask about the specific details. Ask them to explain more, share their feelings about the topic, describe how they move forward or take the next steps. The responses to these questions often offer the most insightful answers.
- Don’t be afraid to ask “obvious” questions: Make sure that you understand all of the basic details that the interviewee is talking about. Make sure you know what that acronym stands for, or how the basic details of a program.
- When needed, stay silent: Your interviewee may need to think for a few minutes about their response. Let them. Don’t interrupt or comment to prevent break the silence. Often, when the interviewee takes a moment to themselves, the response is clearer and will have a greater impact than if they responded right away.
- At the end of the interview, ask for additional comments and questions: Offer the interviewee the opportunity to talk about anything else that they want. They will undoubtedly raise many important points and you’ll be thankful you asked!