Saturday, October 20, 2007

And you thought YOU were nervous...

When I posted about overcoming Interview Jitters last month, I promised a few tips on how to put your interview subject at ease.

Some people are used to interviews. In my opinion, these are the easiest people to interview, because sometimes they'll answer questions you haven't even asked yet. And they answer decisively, and in perfect, quotable sentences. What a relief.

But not everyone is a media pro. If you're alert to that possibility, then you'll suddenly understand why they're talking a hundred miles per hour, or making jokes that aren't funny, or why their throat seems to be closing up and they aren't talking at all. When you can help make them comfortable, then slyly slip in your questions,they'll never even notice they're "being interviewed."

This isn’t rocket-science. I think for most established interviewers these techniques are second nature. But if you’re battling your own case of nerves, it might help to keep these simple tips in mind:

Be interested. This starts pre-interview, inside your brain. It helps me sound more enthusiastic, and that gets the subject talking because everyone loves to talk about what they’re passionate about. Um, almost everyone.
Thank them for their time. Let them know how much you respect/appreciate/need their input on the subject. Not only is it polite, but a nervous interviewee will be reminded that he or she is the expert on the matter. Wouldn’t that put you at ease?
Warm them up with chit-chat. “Wow, what do you think of this heat/cold/smog/acid rain?” will work just fine. But be careful here. You could end up wandering so far off your subject that 45 minutes later you’ll have to break in abruptly with, “And I’ll bet those grandkids are really proud about your recent discovery of ionized particles in subcutaneous matter! How did that discovery come about, anyway?”
Ask easy questions first. One thing I do if I sense my source is nervous is tell them I have to get some basic info before we begin: spelling of first and last name, make sure I get their title right, etc. That usually puts people at ease. They're like, "Spell my name? That's easy! I know this one!! Yay me!"
Don’t read your questions. Ask them.

Okay, that’s five. What are your tips for putting interview subjects at ease?


Serenity Now! said...

I honestly try not to talk to much. I'm such a chatty cathy sometimes.... then I find myself laughing at my own stupid jokes!

I think that the most important piece of advice is something you already covered: be interested.

I think if you've been a writer long enough you have done some interviews that were pretty mechanical. Try avoid that. Be interested in them, in their story. Remember, everyone is the main character in their own story.

Linda Sherwood said...

A good interview should feel like a conversation not a interrogation. The person you are interviewing, however, should be saying the majority of the comments.

Also, don't ask yes/no questions.

Karen L. Alaniz said...

My tip would be to not try to do it all at one time (understand the subject, photography, and interview). If you do, you just may be conducting an interview in the middle of a field while standing next to a chicken named "Ike."

Yeah- true story. I got an idea to do a story on a new local organic farm and, well, it's hard to take notes, while holding a camera and tripod. And when you're learning something brand new, it's hard to take notes at all. So I'd say if you're doing it all, take the time to go to the place and just take it all in first.

Carolyn Erickson said...

LOL, Karen! A digital voice recorder is your friend.

I do so hope you got a shot of Ike's good side!


Carolyn Erickson said...

Hey, I can subscribe to comments. :)