Interview tips to tell great stories
Interview Tips: A Key Component of Storytelling
You don’t need a journalism degree to capture a great story. I don’t have one, yet I spend much of my time interviewing people to inform the stories we write. Whether it’s a stakeholder, patient, student or scientist you’re interviewing, all you really need is a little preparation and curiosity to ensure an informative discussion. Here are a few interview tips I’ve learned along the way.
Do Some Research
Before you can dive into an interview — or prepare for one — you need a little background information. Maybe you’re discussing a complex topic and a quick Internet search can give you an overview of the basics. Or maybe you’re asking someone to share their personal story. Either way, doing some research before can ensure your time and the interviewee’s time is spent efficiently and productively, so you can allocate greater focus to the story’s key themes.
This seems like one of the most obvious interview tips, but strategically preparing interview questions ensures you capture all the information you need and can even streamline the writing process. Before you draft your interview questions, think about the story. What is its purpose? What information do you need from each interviewee? Where do you want to focus your discussion? I find it most helpful to write questions in an order that aligns with a tentative outline of the story. This framework helps ensure I get everything I need and makes writing the story that much easier. Also, consider keeping a repository of interview questions as a helpful reference point in the preparation of future interviews.
Keep It Light
Sometimes you’re interviewing a president of an organization who is comfortable and well-versed in discussing their mission. Other times, you’re interviewing a patient, or a person just like you and me, to share a personal aspect of their life. In the latter case, I’ve found the word “interview” can be intimidating, and they might be nervous for your discussion. Whether on a phone or video call or in person, put them at ease by reminding them that it’s really just a conversation and there isn’t pressure to say everything perfectly. Yes, you have questions prepared, but you’re not beholden to them. Make it a painless and positive experience for all — because it should be.
It is not an easy task to ask questions, take notes and ensure you’re getting all the information you need while truly listening to and engaging with the interviewee. To help with this, ask the interviewee if you can record your discussion for reference. Voices Memos is a great and free app on Apple devices. Also, don’t be afraid to go off script. Really listen and ask follow-up questions as they arise for clarification or greater detail. Never be afraid to ask a “dumb” question. Being curious and genuinely interested often unveils parts of stories we would otherwise miss.
After you’ve finished interviews, you can begin to tell the story. Respect the story and the real people you’ve spoken with. Even the simplest of stories can be inspiring. Even the most complex of concepts can be approachable. Interviewing is just one part of the process, but it’s one of the most important parts, and keeping these thoughtful interview tips in mind help us tell these stories well.