Most of my writing, whether for magazine articles, Web content or books, depends on me getting great interviews with my sources. Some interview subjects make that job easy, and some make me work for it. Here are a few tips for getting what you want out of any interview.
1) Ask the right people. Before requesting an interview, make sure the potential source has the credentials and experience you are looking for. How do you find good sources?
a) Do a Google search for your topic plus the word “expert” and see who comes up.
b) Look up news articles online on your topic and see who those reporters are quoting. They may be good leads for you.
c) Go to Amazon.com and see who the published authors are on the topic.
d) Use Profnet.com to find any kind of expert you want. It’s free for writers, and effective.
e) If you’re looking for personal stories or illustrations from the average person, go where they congregate. Contact churches, local chapters of a national organization like MOPS or AmVets, and use social media like Facebook and Twitter. Just be specific about what you’re looking for.
2) Do your homework. Before the interview, read as much background on your person as possible. If they are a published author, ask the publisher for a review copy of their book. If they are not published or quoted in the news already, send them a few preliminary questions they can answer via email before your phone call so you know where to probe.
3) Put them at ease. Some people are naturally more comfortable being interviewed than others. Everyone will be more at ease if you send them a list of questions that you will likely ask them during the interview. If your editor/publisher agrees, tell them up front that you will send them your draft of their story before sending it to the editor so they can make corrections for accuracy.
4) Ask the right questions. Of course you’ll need to get the facts, but dig deeper for the emotional, human element of the story.
a) Ask about the thoughts that were never spoken. “What went through your mind at that moment?”
b) Ask about surprises, expectations, emotions. For example, ask “What surprised you about____?” Ask, “When was the last time you cried, and why?” to get a glimpse of his or her heart.
c) Ask them to paint a picture for you. For instance, “What was the view from that mountaintop where you had that conversation with God?” The details you get could take your story from good to great.
d) Ask follow-up questions if they aren’t giving you what you want.
5) Don’t interrupt. When your interview subject pauses, don’t quickly jump in. He or she may be thinking. Many times if you just let the silence hang for a moment, your source will keep going. Whether or not it’s just to fill the silence, you may get some deeper stuff than if you had gone on to your next question.