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“How hard can it be anyway?”

Here’s the situation:

It’s tax time (yay!) and a client tells us they have an incredibly powerful case study to use for their direct mail campaign.

They organise the interview and send through the transcript.

But …

In 10 pages of typed words, the only guided question is, ‘So tell me about your cancer experience’. Oh no! Needless to say, it becomes mighty difficult to write an engaging direct mail piece without the right information or quotes.

So, sit back and read on, and hopefully by the end you’ll have some new techniques to get the most out of your interview.

Wait, what? Isn’t interviewing just asking a bunch of questions?

Well, technically, yes.

But it’s more than that. Interviewing is an art form in itself, and to get the information you need takes more than just ‘asking a bunch of questions’. It’s about reading people, and reading them well. After all, knowing how to ask is just as important as what to ask.



  Come prepared

Research, research, research.

If you’re interviewing a scientist, for example, pull up everything you have on file. Google their name. Scour their LinkedIn page. Read their website and any previous interviews they’ve done. Educate yourself about what they do and the organisation they work for.



  Write a list of questions

This seems obvious, but here goes:

Write down everything you want to ask, in a rough order of how you want the interview to flow. This way, you won’t get to the end of the interview and realise you’ve missed the most important question. And before you go in, boost your confidence by making sure you’ve read and re-read that list as many times as possible.



  Keep questions open ended

Asking a question with a yes or no response is a waste of your time and can lead to some awkward silences.

Instead, keep questions open ended. If you want to know if someone enjoys their job, try asking ‘What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?’ – it gives that person room to talk, explain, and share their story.



  Start Easy  

Don’t go in firing your most important question first.

Chances are, you’ll catch someone off guard and they’ll shut down. Instead, make them feel comfortable and welcome. Smile. Ask if they’d like something to drink. Make small talk. Then start with the easy stuff. Like how to spell their name, where they’re from and how long they’ve been supporting your cause. Now you’ve warmed them up, you can move on to the harder questions.



  Tease out the feelings  

Say someone tells you they got sick in March, started treatment in June and it was horrible.

Stop. Go back to when they started.

Back to when they were diagnosed. Do they remember what they were doing that day? How did it make them feel? When you ask someone about an emotion or feeling, you’re more likely to get an emotional response.



  Match the mood  

Interviewing is about reading people. How are they sitting? Where is their gaze? What’s their mood like? Are there topics that make them tense up and shut down? Are there topics that make them light up and chat openly? Figure out what makes them comfortable and keep them there. It will help them relax and warm up, before you try the harder questions.




You’d think this would be a given. But some people get so fixated on getting through their list of questions that they don’t really care about the answers. This is a big fat mistake.

You must, above all else, listen.

Because even though you ask one thing, they may veer off course a little and touch on something you didn’t know, or something you weren’t prepared to talk about. Often, this can be interesting, important, and invaluable to your story. You might get a gem of a quote or the intro to your article. Just make sure to steer them back on track at the end.



  Ditch the script  

DISCLAIMER: this technique is for the more experienced, confident interviewer!

It seems like a contradiction. Why write a list at all if you don’t use it? Well, because sometimes it’s better to make it a conversation – to talk as you would a friend rather than a structured Q&A.

If you record the interview (which we highly recommend – just make sure everyone is aware!), your list of questions will be used more as a guide than a set-in-stone structure, depending on what they tell you.



  Check the details  

Always, always check details.

Spelling of names. Dates. Figures. Stats. Places. Double check if you’re not sure. Ask them to repeat something if you couldn’t quite understand. The worst thing is to assume it’s correct, print it, and get it wrong.



Show gratitude  

Remember, it’s often a big deal for someone to open up to a stranger, especially if it’s about an issue or person close to their heart.

At the end of the interview, thank them for their time, honesty, and openness. Make them feel valued, and let them know you’ll be in touch to check the story, or to send them a copy when it’s published.


  Have fun  

We mean this sincerely.

Interviewing doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) so damn serious. Just relax, know the person sitting opposite you is willing to share, and talk to them as you would a friend – with sincerity, compassion and interest.


Have any more tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

Still not comfortable doing interviews?