Wick Communications

Making interviews count

In Writing techniques on April 4, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Foyer Interview

Capital Journal Managing Editor Lance Nixon led a fascinating discussion among Team Discovery journalists last week. We were talking via conference call about one of the most important, least understood, skills of the job: interviewing  other human beings.

Lance compiled some really terrific tips from poynter.org, travelllll.com, sparkminute.com and mediahelpingmedia.com. I hope you will click on all the links and take a look. I bet some resonate.

Our discussion was, in part, a chance to share some old war stories. The best stories we tell all come with stories of their own. It was also a chance to bring into the open some of our common ideas about the interviews we conduct.

It is interesting how little training goes into the art of the interview. I suggested that that may be because it is an art rather than purely craft and that the best interviewers are probably not in positions like mine.

Here are some of the things we touched on:

  • Creating the right tone can be a challenge. On the one hand, you want to “get close to the interviewee,” but on the other, there is a notion that we must keep professional distance;
  • Sometimes it helps to “reboot.” Have you ever gotten off on the wrong foot? Sometimes things just start wrong. When that happens it can be helpful to simply acknowledge that you began things poorly and seek a way to start over; …
  • Listening is the most important part. Try not to fill any awkward silences. Sometimes those silences can tell volumes and add context to what is said;
  • For heaven’s sake, spell names correctly. Nothing spoils an interview more thoroughly than failing to get the most fundamental aspect right. Group Manager David Lewis suggests waiting till the end and asking for spellings and other clarifications so as not to interrupt the flow;
  • Body language is important. We agreed that mimicking your subject’s body language (be it posture at the table, leaning forward, whatever) is a good idea. David calls it neuro linguistic programming, and who am I to argue?
  • Try to control the environment of the interview, including noise, distractions, etc. And there is general agreement that we are better off interviewing people in their own settings as there is important information there;
  • You might practice appearing to be done, but leaving space at end for the subject to add “off the cuff” material;
  • Whenever possible, research your subject in advance;
  • Preparing a list of basic questions ahead of time often is a good idea;
  • You might try role-playing to flex your muscle. Enlist a coworker to play the role of recalcitrant business owner and see if that helps you prepare for that interview;
  • Editors must coach reporters before their stories are prepared. Help framing questions can make a big difference.

Clay

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