Saturday, 16 February 2013

Ten tips to follow for a good interview

Interviews are crucial when it comes to contributing to the crux of any story. It is therefore best to plan your interview well in advance to keep the hurdles you may face during one.

The following list of guidelines can be followed by professionals in the field as well as university students.

While there may be others who tell you that their way is better, here is what I do to prepare for an interview.

1.) Do send in a list of questions to the interviewee:

Sending in a list of questions to your interviewee a day or two before your interview means he has time to prepare for what you will be asking him/her during the interview.

While the element of surprise is always an excellent curve-ball to catch your interviewee off guard, the last thing you want is for him/her to be stuttering or stammering his way through an answer. 

There are many professionals who will also not agree to an interview unless you send them a list of questions in advance. You're going to have to prepare a list of questions anyway, so why not just send your interviewee the same?

Of course, this works only for diary events. Off-diary events, such as a car crash or a bomb blast will obviously not allow for this luxury.

2.) Do your research before the interview:

Whoever you are speaking to has taken time out of their day to give you their focused unwavering attention. It is therefore right that you do your research into what exactly you want to ask them about the subject in question.

If, for example, you are covering a fire and you are speaking to a fire marshal, do your research - if it is available - as to how the fire started, how many people died or were injured etc. If the area wherein the fire has taken place is prone to fires or has seen fires in the past, let your research cover that as well.

You can then ask the fire marshal deeper questions that scratch underneath the surface such as 'what was the extent of the blaze when you arrived at the scene?'.

If of course, there is no data available for the above, ask the fire marshal about the same and incorporate that into your voiceover, letting only the human interest segment of that story come from the marshal himself/herself.

Use the data you get from research to form questions and pose these questions to your interviewee.

3.) Do conduct your interview in a comfortable, quiet location

Noise can be quite off-putting to both the interviewer and the interviewee. Trying to make yourself heard over a rather loud noise is not easy at any time, let alone an interview.

When conducted in a quiet atmosphere, an interview is easy to conduct. There is no shouting at the other over a loud noise, which can directly affect the mood of both parties and therefore the quality of the interview. 'When is this interview going to end so I can get out of here' is not a thought that you want to put into your interviewee's head.

The atmosphere in which an interview is conducted can also affect the confidence of the interviewer which in turn could lead to you botching your own interview, making it look very bad when aired in public. The same can be said about space, as you want both yourself and the interviewee to be comfortable while conducting an interview to ensure you get the best out of the other person.

I made that mistake once, when I interviewed Scott Marshall, the former Arsenal left-back who runs the Arsenal Soccer School in the Sultanate of Oman. The only place comfortable enough in the building was just inside the lobby, which was unfortunately situated right next to a bank of elevators.

While I did get a very good interview, I wish I had chosen a better location so that his speech was punctured by the 'ping' of the elevators every ten seconds. By the time I had realised my mistake, it was too late.

4.) Do pay attention to what your interviewee is saying

'You were sleepy and showed a total lack in interest in what your interviewee was saying. Your apparent boredom means he will not want to be interviewed by you again' is what one of my mentors told me while I was on work experience.

It was one of the best lessons I have ever been taught. You must remember that you are interviewing someone because it is your job and you are paid to be professional, whether you like the subject or not.

Showing interest in the subject matter will make the interviewee want to open up more and maybe reveal information which he/she would not have otherwise imparted to you, and that quite often can be the difference between a good interview and a great one.

On the contrary, a lack of interest in the subject means that the interviewee will not want to impart to you the information he/she has, meaning you will be left with a poor interview. With the interviewee wondering why he ever agreed to be interviewed by you in the first place, it is very likely your audience will be left wanting a great deal more out of it that what you gave them when the interview was aired.

5.) Do remember to show your interviewee the final product

Often, you will come across an interviewee who is sharing with you information he/she believes is private or news that he/she has uncovered while conducting his/her own research.

At these times, they will ask you to show them a copy of your work to make sure no one else takes credit for what they have done. With good reason: they did not put in all this hard work to not see any reward in the end did they?

Sometimes, you will not be allowed to publish an interview before showing them the final product. They may want emendations or removals to what you are about to publish, which if left in there could lead to libellous action against your organisation: a definite no-no.

Even if they do not ask for it, it is always courtesy to provide them with the interview. It makes the interviewee feel valued and is very likely to be approachable the next time you want help from him/her. I was once asked to show my final production to a PhD research fellow who I had interviewed in the context of football academies in Britain.

For legal reasons, I will not mention his name, but since he was revealing to me information he had acquired through his own research, he had asked me for a copy of my work.

6.) Don't forget to check if you have all your equipment before setting out

Picture this if you will. You arrive at your designated location ahead of time and are waiting impatiently for your interviewee. Nervous, yet excited, you tap your fingers in a restless tone against the hand-rest of the plush leather sofa on which you sit.

Your interviewee gets here. You greet them, usher them into a seat, take out your camera and begin to record. But wait, what's that flashing? You've never seen that before, except when...'ve forgotten to insert your memory card into your camera.

Forgetting to bring your equipment means both you and your interviewee have lost precious time. If a story is due today and that slot was the only opportunity you had for an interview, forgetting to bring your equipment probably means it will crash and burn, something that is a professional no-no.

I know so because I once had such an experience. I was to interview a representative of the Football Association but had forgotten my tapes at home. Luckily for me, though, I was able to reschedule for later that day, but my relief at being able to do so was mingled with a sense of me wanting to kick myself for being so stupid in the first place.

Also check if all your equipment actually works before you leave. Make sure your camera batteries are charged, your headphones work, so on and so forth.

7.) Don't forget to take permission from the parent/guardian of a minor if you want to interview them

Up and coming starlets are present in several fields in today's world, be they a rising singer, an athlete who has made waves or a student who has received a full scholarship to a prestigious university because they got a centum in school.

Either way, interviewing a person under the age of 16 is both unethical and illegal and is punishable by law in most nations, unless you have the express consent of the person's parent or guardian such as a school principal, coach, manager etc.

According to the Code of Practice published by the Society of Editors in the UK, Article six states that:

i.) Young people must be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion

ii) A child under sixteen must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child's welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents

iii) Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities

iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children's welfare, nor parents or their guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest

v.) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's life.

The above law is subject to public interest, which in this case, as mentioned by the Society of Editors means:

"In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to override the normally paramount interest of the child."

As long as you explain to whoever is concerned why you want to interview the child and get them to sign a consent form - like I did when I filmed some kids who were being put through their paces at a youth football academy - you should be fine.

8.) Do show empathy to your interviewee if you are talking about a sensitive subject

Often during your journalistic career, you will be asked to interview the family of a victim of an accident or someone who has lost a loved one to illness.

In this case, you must empathise with the person, and show that you feel their pain. You must understand that whoever you are speaking to is hurting and may not want to be prodded about their feelings right now. Break whatever subject it is you have come to interview the person about extremely gently and if they do not wish to talk about a particular subject, veer away from that topic and come back to it later. If you do go overboard in pressing them, it is almost certain that they will refuse to speak to you further and will not want to proceed with the interview.

Phrases like 'I understand this must be hard for you to deal with' and 'clearly this is a bad time for you' always help, but it is important that you are sincere in your commiserations with the interviewee as they will not like it if (most likely when) they find out you are being insincere in your solace. Nobody like being duped, especially in situations like this and they will tell you to leave in very clear terms.

Similar situations will demand similar attitudes when talking with the interviewee.

There have been reports in the past of journalists who have sent flowers to the family of the bereaved as a symbol of commiseration, with the sole intention of getting an interview. This is a very immoral act and must never be attempted.

9.) Be impartial

Remember that you are a messenger. As a professional journalist, you are not entitled to have an opinion when you are in the field.

You are merely a middle-man between the subject and the audience and it is important that you maintain your neutrality. If you are interviewing an individual who has committed adultery, for example, you cannot say 'did you sleep with X?'. That will probably infuriate your interviewee and he/she will probably leave and end the interview abruptly.

What you could say instead is 'people are saying that you slept with X. What do you have to say about this?'.

If you are interviewing, let us assume, the defence minister of a nation over the sale of missiles to another nation, 'Did you sell missiles to Y?' is not how you would phrase it especially if your claims are unfounded. What you could ask him/her instead is 'The people want to know if you sold missiles to Y. What do you have to say to them?'.

Always remember that whoever you are interviewing is not obliged to speak to you and they are doing you a favour by doing so. Their feelings are paramount and must be regarded.

10.) This last one's a two pointer
a.) Don't ask your interviewee questions that have very short answers.

Not only do short answers make an interview extremely short, they also make all parties - the audience, the interviewee and the journalist - feel awkward during the interview because of it's short length.

If you are at a fair, for example, 'did you enjoy the fair?' is not the way you would pose a question. Instead, ask you interviewee questions like 'how was the fair?', 'what did you like about the fair?' etc.

Questions that provide yes or no answers are also a no-no, unless of course that is the intention.

b.) Check whether you have successfully recorded your interview

After you finish your interview, make sure you have successfully recorded all of it. Just ask your interviewee whether they could hang around for a couple of minutes while you check whether you have gotten all of your interview.

You might have plugged in the earphones or microphone into the wrong jack, might have accidentally muted your volume button, or done any of a myriad number of other mistakes that could have led to you not getting your interview. These things can also happen while you transport your equipment despite you not having done anything wrong.

It takes an extra couple of minutes, but it one of the most important steps in an interview.

These are ten very vital points that have helped me throughout my journalistic career. I hope they help you as well.

And last but not the least, and I cannot stress this enough, never ever forget to thank your interviewee once you have finished your interview!

Until Next Time,


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