Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Art of Interviewing

The Art of Interviewing
By Debbie Roome

Freelance writers will almost certainly have to interview people at some stage of their career. An interview is basically a face to face, or over the phone, question and answer time. It may be needed to provide information for an article, background for a novel or technical input for a manual.

Many people find interviewing a stranger a daunting prospect, but if properly prepared, it is not difficult to do. It helps to remember that most people are excited about being interviewed and talking about their areas of expertise. By following the simple steps below, you can prepare for an interview and approach it with confidence.

Setting up the Interview
This can be done by phone, letter, fax or email depending on the person to be interviewed and the reason. If you are writing a piece on spec, it is best to be upfront about this. The request can be put very simply. “Good morning Mr Jackson. My name is Debbie Roome and I’m putting together an article on possum control for one of our community papers. I’d like to interview you about your experiences as a possum trapper...”

Research the Topic
If you are interviewing a nuclear physicist, make sure you have invested time in understanding the concepts of what is involved in his career. You must have a basic grasp of the subject you will be discussing. This applies to any situation.

Where to Interview
It is best to give the person a couple of options. The most common would be his home, his office or a neutral venue such as a coffee shop. Make sure you arrive a couple of minutes early.

What to Wear
Dress in keeping with the person being interviewed and the location. A tailored suit will not work on a sports field and a T-shirt won’t cut it in the office of a high-powered businessman.

Start with Small Talk
Depending on the situation, a couple of minutes of chat about the weather or surroundings can relax both parties.

Make a List of Questions
Prepare a list of about ten questions. Make sure they prompt a full reply, not just a yes or no answer. You should find that these lead into other areas of discussion.

To Tape or not to Tape
Always ask before taping an interview. A tape is an excellent back up when details are missed or a lot of information is shared.

You are in Charge
Remember that you will be leading the conversation by asking questions and steering the interviewee in the right direction. Be prepared to redirect talk that is going off at a tangent.

End the Interview
When you have enough information, signal the end of the interview by shutting off the tape recorder and thanking them for their time and the interesting interview.

If needed, it is best to take photographs at the end of the interview. The interviewee should be more relaxed at this time and this will show in the pictures. Try to avoid bland head and shoulder shots but look for action snaps – throwing a football or working at a desk for example. Take several shots to ensure a good, clear one.

Books have been written about the art of interviewing but by following the above rules, even a beginner can conduct a successful interview. Interviews can be very rewarding and are definitely the most social part of a writer’s life. Go out and have fun.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

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