Six rules to master the art of the interview
The interview is the foundation of journalism—and being a good interviewer goes a long way. While writers themselves can do a lot to bring colour to a story with observations and insights as well as structuring, the articles that are written are only as interesting as the raw information being drawn from.
At ALHAUS we regularly interview people of interest, including artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs, and have worked out six rules for best practice.
1. Be prepared
Always do your homework—research is an important stage in every interview. Know as much as you can about the subject; their work, interests, history, and aspirations. Find previous interviews, read, watch or listen to the subject’s work, and pinpoint what might be sensitive subject matter. Put yourself in their shoes to get insight into what is unique about them or their processes. Having an informed starting point will lead to more natural discussions.
2. Stick to your interests
It’s important to pitch topics and interviews that you’re already interested in. Being engaged with a subject will make the research stage a lot more productive and will almost certainly make for a better interview.
3. Comfort is key
Make sure your subject is somewhere where they feel comfortable, whether it’s their home or a café of their choice—an interview will be markedly enhanced when the person is in an environment where they feel relaxed. Also, don’t forget to warn them before turning on a recording device, to establish a level of trust. And as much as possible, leave your nerves at home—because if you’re anxious, it will make them anxious.
4. Brush up on your people skills
Carrying out a good interview is 10% luck and 90% making the subject feel at ease around you. People often have their bristles up around journalists, so it’s important to remain polite and personable in order to remind them that you’re just a normal person hoping for a good chat.
5. Let your curiosity drive the conversation
You should approach an interview as you would any other conversation and not be afraid to ask the difficult questions. However, hold off on these until toward the end, when the interviewee is more relaxed. Encourage the interview to take on a somewhat free-form style and you’ll find that topics will emerge that are far more entertaining than anything your questions may have prompted.
6. Mum’s the word
The key to a good interview is letting the interviewee do most of the speaking. Don’t get distracted by your phone or too regularly check your notes while they are speaking, as you should be following up with relevant questions. Exchanges built from answers usually lead to more natural conversations and will ultimately produce a more engaging interview. Get comfortable with silences, which will allow space for elaboration on a given subject and give the subject a gentle push to speak further. It will be obvious if they are ready to move on.
Here at ALHAUS, we have a whole team of writers, skilled at the art of interviewing. We can help you write and develop content and work to nuanced editorial briefs. Contact us today to learn more.