Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Art of Interviewing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

As much as I enjoy writing first-person family columns, another favorite part of being a writer is when I have the opportunity to interview people for feature articles that I’ve been assigned.  I have met dozens of interesting people from all walks of life during the past decade due to conducting interviews.  I recall how nervous I was when I was just learning the ropes of interviewing, but now I look forward to each and every one because not only do I learn about new topics from the expert folks I’m interviewing, I have also expanded and improved my interviewing techniques with the experience I’ve gained.   Here are some of the techniques I’ve come to rely on when conducting an interview:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Research, read and obtain background information about the subject, source or topic at hand before interviewing so that you can ask informed questions.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Make the subject comfortable: Before you start writing in your notebook, try to establish a connection and level of trust with the person you'll be interviewing. Putting him or her at ease before the questioning begins can make a big difference. And while interviewing people, if you can, have them in an environment that keeps them comfortable.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Ask simple questions.  Keep your questions short, to the point and focused. Otherwise you risk distracting or confusing your subject, or allowing him or her to answer only part of a complex question. Break down complicated questions into shorter, simpler questions.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Become an excellent listener.  You may be prepared going into an interview and have a list of questions you want to ask, but listen carefully to what you're being told. An interview may take you in directions you didn't see coming, and you don't want to miss out on opportunities for follow-up questions.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Allow for silences; don't interrupt: Most people need some time to gather their thoughts and formulate responses. It's up to you to give them that space.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Limit closed-ended questions and try to focus on open-ended questions that begin with “why?” and “How?” or use phrases such as “Tell me about…”
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Admit what you don’t know:  You might think you’re very prepared for an interview, but if a subject comes up during the interview that you don’t understand, don’t pretend to know it.  The person you are interviewing will respect you more if you are honest and is generally happy to explain the piece you aren’t understanding so that you will be better informed.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Ask follow-up questions.  Listen to the answers and probe further before moving on to your prepared questions. Often it is during a follow-up question that the right quote falls into your lap. “Following up” can also involve a non-question, like a sympathetic response or a gesture of surprise or admiration.
Engage the person you are interviewing to ensure the opportunity of gathering the most interesting information possible.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Take notes about anything that strikes you during the interview.   In addition to facts and statistics, you might also want to write down physical details about your environment and your subject’s appearance, facial expressions and voice. But be sure to look up from your notebook and maintain eye contact.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·        <!--[endif]-->Last but not leastthank the interviewee for their valuable time in giving you the interview.  Time is a very precious commodity for most people, so be sure to thank the person/s you interviewed for their time and cooperation. 
What techniques do you find helpful when you conduct an interview?

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