Over the years I’ve done plenty of these, and I’ve developed a system that works well. These are my own 10 tips for how to do the whole shebang. Please share them with friends or colleagues who might benefit.
- Do some homework. Find out everything you can about the person you’re interviewing as well as the company, the industry, etc. I start with LinkedIn and any web site that’s appropriate. Jot down relevant information you come across. For example, maybe this person has tons of experience in the field or has written books about the subject matter. Knowing this sort of stuff will help your interview. The goal is to be prepared and to come across as the bright, thinking, well-informed writer/researcher you are.
- Create a Word document before your interview. At the top, put your interviewee’s contact information, the date, the subject you’re covering, your audience, all of the pertinent insights you’ve uncovered from Step #1, and what information you hope to collect.
- Write your preliminary questions on this document. This is critical. You don’t want to waste their time or yours, and without this roadmap, you risk not getting the information you need.
- Be professional. Call when you say you’ll call. Mention your role and what you’re going to be writing about. Make sure there are no dogs barking in the background and no other phones ringing during the call. Ask how much time the person has to speak with you. Honor it.
- Ask your prepared questions and listen carefully. Be a typing wiz. Take notes all the while, and don’t worry about spelling. You can fix errors after you hang up.
- Don’t be afraid to veer from your script. Often the most interesting content from interviews come from such detours.
- Hang up, transcribe everything you heard but failed to write during the live call, check your spelling, read all your notes and make sense out of all of them. Many people make the mistake of closing the document and taking a long break from it. Don’t do it. It’s important to clean up your document as soon as the call ends.
- Draft the piece as soon as you can. The more time you let pass, the weaker your memory about that conversation. Don’t let it sit. I did this when I started out (before I knew better) and came back to documents that seemed to be written in gibberish. Honest.
- Edit. Edit. Edit. Polish. Read it aloud. Let it steep overnight if possible. Edit some more. Sorry to be beating a dead horse, but practice (and editing) will make your writing better and better.
- If appropriate, send the draft to your interviewee/editor for a look-see and their comments. Ask them to turn on the tracking so you can see what changes they want made. Clean up the final copy that they return to you. Now your piece is ready for prime time.
This whole process can be done on the same day or (ideally) overnight, giving you time to review and perfect your piece. Using this system will help you do the interview methodically, accurately, and professionally.
In my experience, the most important tip among these 10 is #8: draft your piece as soon as you can after you hang up the phone. By doing so, you’ll remember more from the conversation and you’ll also be able to fill in some blanks as you write. Having questions scripted ahead of time is also important, even if you end up scrapping some of your original questions.
© 2014 Margie Dana. All rights reserved.