Saturday, September 22, 2007

Interview Jitters

Does anyone ever have them?

Some nervousness before an interview may actually be helpful - as long as it’s not the kind that makes your throat close up and you can’t even squeak out a greeting. But a tiny pump of adrenaline helps me keep an interview high-energy.

I have learned a few things that help me harness the energy of those interview jitters. I’ll share them, but I don't know them all, so I hope that you'll share your tips with me!

I usually perform telephone interviews. I’ve rarely interviewed people face to face, and without my trusty laptop, I struggle with taking notes. How do you keep up? I also haven’t done any “investigative journalism” where I’ve had to squeeze information from a source. Nor have I interviewed a celebrity (although they’re people too, and I would start with that mindset.) So if you have tips for those or other kinds of interviews, I’m all ears!

So, my tips to combat the telephone interview jitters:

 Prepare well. Do your homework. Knowing everything you can know about your interviewee will give you confidence that your questions won’t make you sound like a dufus. Check for a website, press releases, other articles written about them.

 Call or email to set up a time for the interview. (Warning: Many times your subject will say “Now is fine,” so be ready!) This is a non-threatening first contact. You call to set up appointments for the kids’ haircuts, right?

 Duct tape the kids before you make that call. (If duct tape is not your thing, figure out some other way to keep them occupied.) Nothing makes an interview more nerve-wracking for me than distractions.

 Have a handy phrase scripted in case one of the kids gets loose and screams that the baby is eating poop. (Hey, Heather warned you we might talk about poop.) You can chuckle and say, “I’m working from home today,” or “Those neighbor kids are always wandering over here!” You’ll sound so calm and professional.

 Make a list of the questions that can’t be answered with a quick “yes” or “no.” For instance, if you’re interviewing an expert on parental controls for web browsing, rather than asking, “Should all parents know about parental controls?” you would ask, “Why do you think its important to tell parents about the risks of the Internet?” Or “What are the risks?” And then a follow-up question might be, “How can parents keep their children safe while browsing?” See the difference? The first question could bring the interview to an uncomfortable pause if the expert simply responds with “yes.”

 If that does happen though, remember that the uncomfortable pause can be your friend. Most people feel like they should fill it by talking, and since you want them to talk, it’s a good thing to be silent at times.

 Near the end, ask if there were any questions you didn’t ask that he or she thought you should. This question for me has taken fairly dry interviews into “Eureka!” interviews, and abolishes the fear that I might not have asked something important.

 Thank the interviewee for their time and ask if you can contact them if you discover you need more information. Find out whether they prefer phone or email for follow-up questions. Again, this takes any fear out of it if your editor wants you to include something you didn’t get the first time.

Hope these tips help you like they’ve helped me. I LOVE interviewing. (Hate listening to recordings of my own voice though!) But I’m not an expert on interviews by a long shot.

If you have tips, please share them! If you have questions, you can post those too. I’m sure between all of us writing mothers, we can find a way to answer them.

I also have a few tips for putting an interview subject at ease, which will come in a later post.



Serenity Now! said...

Oh yes! The PAUSE... that's so important... let the pause occur. Don't try to fill it in with commentary or - egads - your own story.

I remember the first time I transcribed a big interview I had done. Half of it was me talking! During transcription I kept yelling "Shut up already!" at my computer.

I'm better now. I let pauses occur... I think.

I also pay someone to transcribe for me now. It's a small price to pay... I don't have a lot of time these days and I'm ok paying a little bit out of pocket for this duty.

Carolyn Erickson said...

I love the idea of paying someone to transcribe for me. I've had the same "shut up!" moments listening to myself.

And I sound like I'm from Kansas - it isn't so much an ack-sent as it is just talking slowwww. (I'm not even FROM here!) LOL. When I interview someone from either coast, it is almost comical. It would be comical if I was listening to someone else instead of myself.

I need your transcriptionist's number. ;)