How to Conduct a Successful Interview

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Submitted: February 22nd, 2013
By: Scott Leslie

There’s a famous story where Kathie Lee Gifford once interviewed musician James Taylor back in 1997 on her talk show Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. Gifford asked Taylor how his brother Alex was doing. It sounded like an innocent enough question – until she heard his response.

“I wish I could say he was doing well,” Taylor replied. “Alex died about four years ago.”

Chances are you’re not going to be in a position to interview any big celebrities for your next company newsletter. But it does bring up the question of how to conduct a successful interview when you need to write an article.

Here are a few helpful interviewing tips:

Preparation: Before you interview your subject, it’s important to plot your strategy. That means figuring out what the focus of your article will be and preparing a clear list of questions. More importantly, make sure you do your homework, whether it’s on the internet or at your local library. Doing some basic research will give you a good grasp of your topic and help you avoid any unnecessary gaffes with your interview subject.

Tools: When interviewing someone in person, be sure to bring along your list questions to act as a guide. Tape recorders are helpful but like any form of technology, they can act up. The last thing you want is to get back to the office and find yourself listening to a long burst of static. Bring along a pad of paper to take notes – or use both if you don’t feel sure of yourself.

Starters: To put your subject at ease, use a few “icebreakers” to get things rolling. This can be anything from talking about the weather to discussing common friends and acquaintances. People enjoy hearing their name so using your subject’s first name is often helpful to diffuse any initial self-consciousness.

Discussion: Once the small talk is over with, start asking your subject some routine or detail-oriented questions to ease into the interview. Establishing basic facts like dates and names is a good place to start. As the interview progresses, ask your questions and let your subject do most of the talking. They’re the real expert in the room so give them the opportunity to share that knowledge. Don’t be afraid to change some of your initial questions or ask follow-up ones. Just keep things on track if they start to get off topic.

Closing time: Once you’ve finished your line of questioning, start to wind things down. Ask final questions and make sure all your points have been answered by the time you’re through. Act now – people are busy and you might not get a second chance to talk. Be polite at all times and make sure you thank your subject for their time. On the way out, feel free to pick up any brochures or materials that might give you more insight into your subject matter.

And finally: I have some bad news for you... Once you get back to your office, there’s only one thing left to do. Start writing!