Tuesday, 30 April 2019

The Art of Chat — 5 Tips to Craft a Cracking Interview

One of the most important skills in journalism is the art of the interview. Some presenters on TV make it look easy, and if you have a confident vibrant personality then it can be. Whether you are reporting the news, or putting together a feature you should always include an interview with a key figure in your story, this gives your content gravitas and legitimacy. Yet there is more to interviewing than simply being garrulous or comfortable chatting on the sofa; asking the right questions, in the right manner are essential skills for the interviewer. I have interviewed numerous people from all walks of life including film stars, film makers, teachers, entrepreneurs and politicians, and all my training did not prepare me for the roller-coaster ride that interviews can be. I have learned to adapt my style and questioning skill to not only suit the subject of my interview to get the answers I need for my project. So, here is my quick guide to putting together the perfect interview.

1. Do your research

This might seem the most obvious tip to start with but it is surprising how many people show up to interview unprepared, or missing key bits of information. If you’re already an expert on the subject then this should be easy enough though it never hurts to make sure you are fully up to date. You could just be one question away from a surprise exclusive bit of news that could elevate your piece from “bog standard” to epic.

2. Ask the right questions

By this I mean craft your questions that will lead to a more in-depth answer. Media trained people know to give more when asked, especially if they are promoting something. Yet there is still a risk certain questions are likely to lead to the dreaded “Yes” or “No” response. For example if you ask a politician “have you always wanted to get into politics?” they’re answer is likely to be short and not very sweet. You’re then left with the un-enviable job of adding follow ups to get more detail, and ultimately wastes time. Such a question could go like this “So tell me when did you decide to get into politics? Was it something you always wanted to do?” This opens up for a more detailed and potentially fascinating answer before moving onto the next question. In short, avoid closed questions. I have been fortunate that so many of my interviewees (like Scott Adkins) are so giving in their answers because they understand that people are curious about the details.

3. Plan but not too much

As well as research it’s a good idea to have as many questions as possible lined up and ready. If the interview is by email then this is vital, so make sure you get your questions in. For person to person — whether it’s by phone or face to face if you’re interviewing for print or broadcast — prepared questions are key but make sure you leave room to follow up. Make good of the opportunity you’re given as it is unlikely you’ll get another chance to ask questions if you don’t plan properly, and freeze if you overload with too much prep.

4. Brevity is your friend

OK this might sound like I am contradicting myself given the lecture in tip number 2 but when asking your question, this bit of advice is key. When asking your question, keep it concise and don’t witter — I sometimes do forget this. Long winded questions can eat into limited time that you have and your subject will likely lose interest if your question is lost in preamble. Of course you can add a little context to your question for example, I asked actor Scott Adkins in a video interview which role he would rather play “James Bond or Jason Bourne”. This might seem random but we were discussing a British film with a British lead at a time when speculation was rife about who should be the next James Bond especially from Scott Adkins fans. To see how this was done then check out my question to him at 15:54 of this video interview and his charming answer.

5. Relax and Enjoy

Interviewing can be a nerve wracking task, and after 100+ interviews I still get nervous — even with email interviews because of the uncertainty of the answers. Face to face interviews are more daunting and so you need to pay attention and be ready to think on your feet. Some subjects like to play with their interviewer a little, and so the idea that you might stumble and look silly is a genuine fear. Don’t worry about it; be professional, be prepared but most of all enjoy the process, even the nerves. Interview subjects tend to mostly be confident so be equally confident. They’ll want to control how they are seen, and if they are promoting something then they’ll want to keep that as the focus. Just like travelling keep on eye on the route so you don’t get lost but don’t panic if you go a little off course, simply go with it and then re-route — you never know what pleasant surprises lay around the corner.

These are mainly for scheduled interviews with time slots or pre-planned email interviews. I will post another guide to interviewing “on the hop.” For now if you keep these five things in mind then your interview will go well, your professionalism will shine, and you will have a feature article or video interview that will stand out above the rest.

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