February 26, 2021
Making the Most Out Of An Interview
Here is the most important thing to know about reporting: there are NO stories about homecoming, or football, or English class. Oh, you’ll have spreads devoted to these, but the page ladder is about structuring your topics, not the story-telling that readers will find on each spread.
All stories are about people.
The real secret is that everything you include in the book must have significance and meaning. You need to look for intimate moments, whether through your interviewing or photography. Because of this, you should avoid collections of quotes that look like this: “It’s a fun time for me and my friends.” “The guys work hard every night.” “I just love being part of the team.” These are “empty quotes” which could be uttered anywhere by anyone.
Also called hit-and-run quotes, gathered in seconds, with no follow-up or depth, they should be avoided in favour of letting your sources think and speak long enough to provide some sort of meaning. In other words, looking for intimate moments means not jamming in as many isolated and fragmented quotes as possible into the book.
So how do you ensure you get a good interview? We have a list of tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your time with a subject.
- Don’t ask questions. Instead, give gentle commands.
- Tell me about…
- I’m curious about…
- Describe your reaction to…
- I’ve always wondered about…
- Talk to me about…
- I can’t imagine how that made you feel. (Then pause for a long time)
- Take me back to five minutes before (moment) and walk me through it.
- Always ask open-ended questions instead of yes/no questions or multiple-choice. Think of it not as a quiz, but rather an essay.
- When the source is done talking, remain completely silent for at least 30 seconds. In that pause, let them feel the need to fill the silence. Your best, most thought out quotes will come from inside your interviewee – not from your questions.
- Listen to every word they’re saying. Don’t worry about framing your next question. If you’re listening, it will come to you.
- If you can’t think of the next question, use the standby “Hmm. Interesting. Tell me more.”
- Record your interview if at all possible. In this day of digital meetings and virtual gatherings, recording the whole interview will allow you to go back and catch quotes. It also allows you to set the scene as you remember/watch gestures the interviewee made.
Each interview (and interviewee) is unique. You may even find that you need to come back to a subject at a later time. But following these tips will help you create consistently good stories for both your subject and your readers.