I know it sounds obvious, but you really must prepare before the interview. Find out as much as you can about the person you’re going to interview, and the subject matter of the interview. Prepare your questions in advance. Think about the order you will ask them. A rule of thumb is to ask questions about facts first, leaving opinion questions until later. Most people find questions about facts much easier to answer, so they start to feel more at ease. Spend a little time imagining how you hope the interview will go. Visualise yourself in the situation, introducing yourself, asking the first question.
Think about where the interview will take place. Try to interview the person in a place which is appropriate to the interview – their place of work, for example. Interviewing a person on their territory can put them at ease, and also provide you with colour for your story.
How you start the interview can influence how successful it will be. Be confident and courteous. Start by introducing yourself, and stating the reason for the interview. Set your ground rules. For example, you may want to insist that the interviewee says in advance if they want what they say to be off the record.
During the interview, you should be polite but firm. Ask your questions in a confident manner, and listen carefully to the answers. Very often an inexperienced interviewer will simply go through their list of questions, not realising that some of them have already been answered. Use your list of questions as a base for the interview, not a rigid script. Ask follow-up questions. Ask for evidence to support any claims made by the interviewee. Don’t be afraid to ask ‘How do you know that?’ But never ask leading questions. Let the person say what they want to say, not what you want them to say.
When ending the interview, you should go back over the main things that have been said. This gives you a chance to review your notes. You should then ask the interviewee if they want to add anything else. And finally, ask if you can contact them again should you need to.
OK, so the interview is over, but you have one last task. As soon as possible, sit down and look at your notes. Are they clear? Is there anything else you can add to them? Do this while you can still remember what was said. And write down all the colour you can remember – about the person and the place.