The secrets of a great interview

A woman wearing a yellow top and black headphones with a microphone in front of her, engaged in an interview.

By Allison Tait.

Interviews are an essential part of life for freelance writers and content writers, but they’re often overlooked as part of the skill set you need to create a successful career in these fields.

After all, isn’t an interview just about writing out a list of questions and then asking them, either face-to-face (real life or Zoom) or on the phone?

You ask the question, you get the information, you write the article, case study or blog post. End of story.

Well, yes – and no.

It is true that one of the keys to an interview is preparation and going into the interview with a selection of questions designed to result in information.

But a great interview? One that results not just in information, but the insights that can take an ordinary piece of writing to the next level? That’s a different story.

After decades of interviewing people for everything from Q&As in Countdown magazine and feature articles, to podcast conversations and one-hour author events, these are my secrets to a great interview.

1. Listen

When you’re sitting there with your list of questions and, probably, a limited timeframe to ask them in, there’s a tendency to focus on what you think you want to know rather than on what the interviewee is saying. Listen to the answers to your questions.

Don’t be so focused on what you’re going to ask next that you forget to zero in on what’s being said right now. If you listen, you’ll be able to ask the most important questions an interviewer can ask:

“Why?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Can you tell me more about that?”

The last thing you want is to be listening to your recording or reading your transcript the next day and realise all the questions you should have asked.

2. Follow the tangents

Don’t be afraid to deviate from your set questions – you can always come back to them. The best results I’ve ever achieved in interviews have been from following the tangents – the offhand remark, the additional bit of information, the anecdote.

You can always tell when an interviewee gets on to a subject they’re passionate about. Go with them.

3. Don’t talk more than your interviewee

It’s easy to get carried away – to show off how much research you’ve done on a subject or person, or converse rather than interview.

Don’t.

Remember that you’re there to get information from the person you’re interviewing. More importantly, you’re there to get usable quotes. Quotes from you don’t make a great story.

So, make sure you let the interviewee finish their thoughts and, particularly, their sentences.

Get the quotes and you’ll be able to write a great story.

After all, that is the point of the exercise.



Author bio

Allison Tait began her career as a cadet journalist at the age of 19 and has been asking questions ever since. She is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al reads a lot, writes a lot, and blogs at allisontait.com.

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