Rich, informational, and sometimes snappy quotes are essential to giving any blog post or news story some character. Now that you’ve got the bare-bones ideas for tackling your interview, you’re ready for more specific instructions on interviewing technique.
While you lead the interview, ideally the person you’re interviewing will do most of the talking. In order to get people to open up and become a fountain of hard-hitting, useful quotes, it is crucial to ask the right questions.
Make sure you’re asking the right questions.
Ask open-ended questions. Don’t allow the person to cop-out with one-word or “yes” or “no” answers. You’re guaranteed to get better quotes when you ask questions beginning with “what,” “how,” or “tell me” rather than “do.” If you must ask a question that could lead to a one-word answer, follow up by asking, “Why?”
For example: “What do you think about the new government policy?” will reap much better results than “Do you support the new government policy?”
If you’re stuck, here’s a list of tried and true questions that you can use as a springboard for generating your own questions:
• “Why do you care about this subject?”
• “Can you give me an example of a time when…?”
• “Tell me a little about your involvement with this issue.”
• “How would you solve this problem?”
• “What does this mean for the people involved?”
Be specific. If you want specific, non-generic answers, then you have to ask specific, non-generic questions! While it’s crucial to ask specific questions, it is important to be mindful of the language you use. You must avoid questions that lead the source in any particular direction or drop hints at your opinion on the subject.
For example: “What do you think about the new government policy?” allows your source to freely express their opinion, whereas “What are your thoughts on the horrific, unconstitutional new government policy?” has the potential to offend.
Attempting to sway the source or including your opinion are surefire ways to get them to become defensive, put their guard up, or shut down the interview completely.
Your last question should ALWAYS be, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” You may think you had all of your bases covered with your prepared list of questions, but your source may have additional information that didn’t even cross your mind. This question allows the interviewee some control, and gives them the opportunity to express anything they feel was left out of the interview. Oftentimes some of the best quotes come from this last question, so always include it on your “must ask” list.
Prepare a list of questions, but don’t hesitate to be spontaneous!
Now that you’ve got the perfect questions ironed out, it’s time to put on your press badge and execute the interview. The best thing that you can do is just go with the flow.
No matter how clear-cut your vision for your story may be, it is always possible that your interview will take an unexpected turn. You must be prepared to think on your toes and adapt to any new issues or subjects that may arise. If your source brings up something that you weren’t expecting, be sure to write down any follow-up questions that may come up. Just because you came in with a list of prepared questions, doesn’t mean you should resist any stray from the plan.
It is crucial to be flexible in order to allow your source to fully and accurately depict their view on the subject. While you are ultimately in control of the interview, just as you came in with a list of questions, your source came in with a list of thoughts and opinions that they want heard. So take the time to hear them out – they do hold the power to end the interview if they feel their voice isn’t being heard.
Be an active listener.
Related to my last point, your interviewees will feel much more comfortable and inclined to open up if they recognize that you are actively listening to what they have to say. Instead of simply allowing them to ramble on until your question is answered and then moving right along to the next question, you should use effective body language and ask follow-up questions. The more natural the conversation, the more your source will have to say.
Even if you are nervous or hesitant at first, don’t worry, it will all get easier the more you practice. So don’t be shy! With all of these tips in mind, you’re bound to gather grade “A” quotes at every interview.
Look out for part three, which discusses techniques for interviewing about sensitive subjects. ‘Til then…sound off in the comments section with any tips you think I left out or any other questions you may have about the interview process!