How to interview someone

Evelyn interviews

Credit: Dennis Gonzales

I am currently working on a campaign called Ready, Aim, Hire! that requires me to produce video segments and interview people. For the interview part, CBC Executive Producer Joan Melanson gave us a primer in how it’s done. Some key points:

  • Make sure your interviewee is comfortable. Explain the process, what you want of them, provide water, answer questions; be transparent.
  • Get them to sign a waiver. It’s important to have their written consent (and contact info)!
  • Bring precise questions. A maximum of six questions are suggested for a ten minute interview. Have a producer sit off to the side and consult with them at the end of the interview to see if anything needs to be redone or further explored.
  • Know where you want to go with your questions. Have a beginning, middle and end. You are looking for emotion and engagement in your discussion. Get your interviewee to recall a specific place and time.
  • Use the Five Ws. Joan’s favourite questions start with what and why: what gives the specifics of a story, and why reveals something personal.
  • Replace how questions with what questions: for example, instead of asking “How did you feel when you didn’t get that job?” ask: “What was your reaction to not getting the job?”
  • Always end with: “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” This is Joan’s trick for getting good material. You never know what you’ll get!

My thoughts on interviewing: At first, it seems a bit fake to prime and direct my guest, but the more I interview, I realize that this is the way it’s done. Proper communication is what the interviewee, and your colleagues, expect.

So: Are you going to ask general questions off the top of your head and let your interviewee talk for 15 minutes, maybe getting a couple good minutes of material that your editor now has to spend more time on? Or are you going to prep and guide your interviewee, make the most of your time and get lots of usable material? This is the difference a good interviewer makes. 

Do you have any suggestions for getting a good interview? Are there specific interviewers you admire? Please share in the comments.

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