Updated: Sep 29
Who, what, why, where, when and how: those are the basic questions journalists are taught to ask subjects when reporting.
While those are the perfect ground layers to get an interviewee to open up, storytelling requires much more. It requires the right questions to get to the meat of the story. To find the heartbeat to help bring the story life.
Here are a few tips I've learned along the way to tell your story via the right balance of Q&A interview(s).
It's a conversation
A lot of times, interviewers can get so caught up in the questions they feel they 'need' to ask, that they forget to listen to the answers given. Interviewing, at its purest, should be a back and forth conversation. Jot down notes about your subject, but don't require yourself to stick to those. Really listen to what your subject is giving back to you. Oftentimes, those answers lead to even better questions that you can come up with on the fly and create a new dialogue for your story that you may not have known otherwise. Not to mention, a conversation-type interview helps the subject open up, which again can lead to some really quality answers and insight.
Do your research
One of my favorite sayings is that, "failure to prepare is preparing to fail." If you enter an interview blind with no prior knowledge about the person(s) you're interviewing, its going to be very hard to create a general interview. During your research, pull out nuggets that can create a good conversation. Nuggets that maybe aren't common knowledge to the public and ones that can lead you down an interesting path. Maybe your subject is from Indiana -- a state known for basketball -- head down that path and ask about their interest in that sport. Social media has made researching (sometimes which can feel like stalking I'll admit) lead to interesting conversations and open up a whole new way to learn about the person(s) you're talking to. Do they have photos on Instagram walking their dog? What's his name? Another favorite part of research for me is finding that general connection to a subject. Again, that leads to conversation and can bring the storytelling out naturally and the conversation can grow organically.
Interviewing can be intimidating -- and not just with athletes or celebrities. Asking questions, easy or hard, isn't the most enjoyable thing all of the time, and it can be daunting to try upstart a conversation with someone you've never met. My tip for that? Just keep at it. Practice makes perfect, and the best way to practice conducting interviews is by doing them. Eventually you will find your groove and your sense of comfort being an interviewer and it will become second nature. Smile, have fun and take a breath. Once it's all said in done (after the annoyance that is transcribing) you'll have the meat to bring a story alive. And that, my friends, is the truly fun part.