Interviewing Rock Stars

A great interview for content generation is rarely the result of a rigid ten point questionnaire session with your subject. It’s a genuine two-way conversation where ideas are exchanged, confirmed, challenged – with a few spasmodic belly laughs in-between.

The scariest thing about interviewing someone for information is when your subject is unresponsive; Monosyllabic, unyielding, unfriendly…yikes!

Below is a list of things which I have learnt over the years during the interview process which you may find helpful the next time you find yourself trying to squeeze information out of important time poor people or wary strangers –


Always record your interview and disclose upfront that your subject is being recorded.

Reassure your subject that they can request for you to delete the voice recording after your printed transcript has been done or offer for them to have a copy of the recording and transcript.

Disclose whether you will be passing on the transcript to a third party and get permission to do so first.

Make sure you have a Consent for Release form signed by your subject for any images or quotes you may use from the interview in external communications. It will be a lot easier to get this upfront than ask for it later.

Face to face interviews are always preferable because people are often more anecdotal and honest face-to-face. Most importantly, it helps to build rapport and trust quickly. When your subject feels comfortable with you, they will often give context without you having to ask for it to give you a deeper understanding of their position – which makes for a richer, and more meaningful narrative for your story.

Emails and phone conversations should really only be used for further clarification of what was said during the interview process.

Never start the interview with personal questions or hard questions. Always ease into an interview by asking the subject to talk about themselves in a general way first. That way the subject feels in control of the interview and will usually, after a few minutes, forget that that they are being recorded – which is great – because we don’t want them to feel self-conscious or guarded.

Once your subject is comfortable, then asked guided, open-ended questions and respond to your subject’s answer with your own views or experiences (being mindful that the topic is your subject, not you!). You will find that being open about your own experience or understanding usually opens up other lines of enquiry from your subject.

Always remember to smile and keep your focus on the person. It is very disrespectful to ask for someone’s time, but then show in your body language that you’d rather be eating pizza with a zombie.

Never take phone calls during the interview. Always let your subject answer their phone. They are your guest.

Never respond negatively to your subject. You may find what they say disagreeable or even repugnant. Instead, ask them respectfully to give context or justification to their line of reasoning. Remember, you don’t have to agree – you’re there to get as much information as possible.

Transcribing the interview is a pain – but – it is really important that you do it yourself. This is where the ‘angle’ or position of your narrative will emerge when you playback and transcribe it yourself. You can then structure your story according to your intention. Always look for standout ‘grabs’ and highlight them. These will be your ‘hooks’ or ‘pullout quotes’ and often these quotes are the heart of the narrative.

Where appropriate, offer the subject to review your first draft. You don’t have to accept any editorial changes, unless there is a factual error or clear misrepresentation. It is so important to use discretion when selecting quotes too. Always edit with the best of intention; a person’s reputation can take years to build, and a minute to wipe it off the map, so showing respect for your subject’s dignity and position is paramount.

Remember to have fun during the interview. Jokes are fine, as long as they’re clean and in context to the discussion. After all, who doesn’t like to spend time cracking lyrical with a captive audience over a café au lait?

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

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