How to conduct a successful interview

Reflection in Limerick RiverAs writers, we’re naturally interested in the lives of other people, and interviewing the people who inspire us can be one of the major perks. From Q & A sessions to in-depth features, there is definitely an art to carrying out a successful interview.

From expats in Spain to legendary authors, I’ve interviewed a large range of people through my work as a journalist. Here I’ll cover everything you need to know, from choosing and contacting your subject to preparation and implementation.

1. Select your target

When you work as a journalist, carrying out interviews with the people you admire can be one of the major perks. However, choosing your target interviewee can be tricky. Unless you’ve been commissioned by a big publication or are well-known as a writer yourself, it can be difficult to convince A-list celebs that taking time out of their schedule to chat to you will be worth their while. Likewise, you don’t want to waste your time talking to people who don’t interest you or your readers.

2. Get in touch

A good place to start is by drawing up a list of all the people you would love to interview, however famous or unreachable they may seem. Then have a search online to see if they have a website. If they do and it includes a contact email address, you’re in with a good chance. Send them or their agent a preliminary email introducing yourself and your publication, telling them why you want to interview them and who your readers are. Think of it being a bit like the covering email you would send with a job application, and sell yourself!

Girl outside

3. Arrange a time and place

If possible, arrange to meet the individual in person. By meeting face to face you can ad-lib more easily than you can over the phone, as you will be able to see from their body language how receptive they are. If you can’t get to where they are, a phone conversation is a good option as you can follow up anything they say that piques your interest. If they are very busy, email will work well as you can simply sent a list of questions and wait for them to complete it in their own time.

4. Do your homework

Make sure you do plenty of research before deciding what to ask. Remember that the reason they are speaking to you is to sell their latest movie/novel/album, and be willing to allow them to do a bit of that. After all, if acting/singing/writing is what they’re known for, your readers will want to know about their latest release.

5. Keep it brief

Make sure you keep the actual interview as brief as possible. If they’re good interviewees, you should be able to get everything you need within an hour. The best interviews happen when the interview is in a chatty mood and all you need to do is nudge them occasionally to keep the conversation focused. Keep in mind the points you want to cover, but be flexible enough to change direction if they make an interesting, unexpected comment.

6. Get comfortable with silence

The best trick I’ve learnt is to know when to go quiet. Ask your question, listen to their answer, and then wait. After a couple of moments they’ll feel the need to fill the silence that is gently flourishing between you, and that’s when you’ll get the real answer. Accept their glib, unfeeling first-answer-that-pops-into-their-head answer, and you’ll miss the real gem they have to share, if only you give them the time to.

Girl indoors

7. Remember to take photos

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a particularly good photographer, always have a camera ready. An interview is so much more valuable if you have high resolution images to illustrate it with, and if you can take one yourself you won’t have to rely on the individual to provide one afterwards, which means you don’t have to worry about them letting you down (which they might well do!). If possible, take one photo inside, and one outside, to give your art editor some options.

8. Have fun!

Finally, enjoy the experience. The more relaxed you are, the more fun the conversation will be, which will set both you and the interviewee at ease. This is your chance to ask whatever you want, so prepare well, be polite and friendly and find out the things you and your readers have always wanted to know.

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