Nine tips for better interviews

With the rise of content marketing, communications professionals will increasingly need to create original content. That can include written Q&As, podcasts, videos and more. And the key to getting interesting, compelling content out of those is being able to ask great questions during interviews with subject matter experts.

Photo of OJ Mayo being interviewed.

OJ Mayo being interviewed. Photo via the Memphis CVB

I spent more than 10 years as a professional journalist. During that time, I interviewed thousands of people for all sorts of stories on all sorts of topics. Here are nine tips guaranteed to help you get more out of your interviews.

1. Prepare questions ahead of time, keeping in mind what’s most important to your audience. Does your audience want step-by-step how-to information? Do they want easy-to-digest tips? Or maybe they’re interested in your interview subject’s perspective on a particular issue.

2. Do as much background research as you can. Read up on the person and subject you’re covering and don’t waste precious interview time getting basic, factual information that’s easily available from other sources. The best answers to interview questions are those that provide new insights, information and perspective that isn’t already widely available.

3. Provide questions to the interviewee ahead of time, or plan for follow-up. You want quality information, not mindless responses that are the result of your interview subject not having enough time to think about them. For most marketing and public relations projects, it’s also a matter of politeness and professionalism.

4. Be polite, professional and friendly. You almost never need a confrontational interview. This is not the time to pretend you’re a 60 Minutes reporter. The subject should come away feeling the conversation was enjoyable and interesting.

5. Double-check key facts: spellings of names, titles, numbers, dates and so forth. Email is a great for this after an interview, because you get it in writing, where it’s often clearer.

6. Take notes with pen and paper, or via keyboard, even if you’re recording the interview. Transcribing an interview is time-consuming; notes taken as you talk to someone force you to focus on the most important pieces of information. Notes are also a good back-up for failure-prone recording equipment. Even if you do want to transcribe parts of what you’ve recorded, notes will help you pinpoint the most important parts of the interview. If you’re recording because you’re going to use actual audio or video in your content, notes will still be helpful in highlighting places where you may want to make edits.

7. Only put into quotes what the person actually said, not what you think he or she meant to say. In some marketing and PR functions, it might be acceptable to draft a better quote after the fact; but even then, the person being quoted should agree to “own” the remark. If your subject says something in a way that doesn’t make sense or isn’t clear, you can also simply repeat your question in a slightly different way and get a new answer.

8. Make your last question ”Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn’t?” This gives your interview subject a chance to tell you things that you hadn’t thought of asking about. It often yields good insights.

9. Don’t be afraid of deviating from your planned questions. During an interview you will often learn things you didn’t know and weren’t expecting, which may push the conversation in a different direction. Don’t be afraid to follow that direction; it will often yield better content.

Have other interviewing tips? Please leave them in the comments below.

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