‘Ten (Not So Secret) Tips for Effective Interviewing’

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

I’m here at the Nieman narrative journalism conference, blogging during some of the sessions I attend. I’m sitting in on Jacqui Banaszynski‘s tips on interviewing.

Here are some highlights:

— When interviewing, know your purpose.

— Interview people in their natural habitat as opposed to a coffee shop.

— Turn every subject into a storyteller.

— Believe that everyone you’re interviewing wants to talk to you. Map out why they’d want to talk to you.

— Use props and contrivances, and think of how you can put the subjects of your story in a different place and time. “Where were you when you found x out?” “What were you wearing?” Ask questions that put people somewhere, questions that help turn them into storytellers. This is especially important for people who are shy, awkward, etc.

— “There are no stupid questions. There’s only the stupidity of not asking a question.”

— One of the best interviewing questions is sometimes just “Really?” You want to keep a conversation going.

— We don’t listen enough in life. We often think/worry about the next tough question and don’t listen as much as we should during interviews.

— “If you can think of a question that helps the people you’re interviewing to think of their world in a different way,” that’s great. Sometimes people, especially celebrities and others who are interviewed a lot, get used to the same questions and therefore repeat the same answers.

— Always go back and interview a person … again and again.

— Say to the people you’re interviewing, “Tell me about your day.” Have them walk you through it.

— The goal is to be curious, to keep moving forward, and to not worry about your own discomfort.

— “Peel the onion.” Take one question and keep going. We often ask a question, get the answer, and move on to the next question. The truth is, there is always time to ask follow-up questions, and the follow-up questions are the ones that will illicit a story. “For every question, there are five more questions.”

— If you don’t know what to ask, then you can ask the “best” question: “Really?” or just “Huh.”

— We think during interviews we have to go straight to the heart of the matter. If you have the luxury of time, you can keep developing the heart of the matter during each interview.

— “Our job as journalists is not to know, it’s to find out.”