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Writing

HOW TO INTERVIEW

You can learn anything you want to know by interviewing someone who knows what you don't know. Good interviewing skills are learned. Having a good interview is not difficult if you follow a few easy rules.

1. Get to know your subject before you start your interview. Spend about five to 10 minutes making them understand that you believe them to be an authority on the subject about which you're interviewing. Most often I'll say something like, "I understand you're the world's greatest whit-it maker. Usually they'll respond, "Well, I don't think I'm the world's greatest." Then I'll shoot back with, "everyone I know thinks you are, and I've come to learn how you make whiz-its."

With this tactic, I let the interviewee know that I have confidence in his/her ability to give me the information I've come to get. I also help him realize that other people think he's an authority in his field of expertise. Too, I give them the opportunity to laugh and smile some before I get into the interview.

2. Use a microcassette tape recorder. I've found that people are much more at ease when they don't have to stop their train of thought to let me write down the facts with a pen and paper. Although I hold the tape recorder close enough to them to pick up every word they say, I never make in issue of the tape recorder. Lean forward when you interview, and maintain eye contact with your subject to let them know you're truly interested in what they have to say.

3. Be very specific in your questions. Use questions like:

How did you get started making whiz-its?
Why do you think your whiz-its are better then everyone else's whiz-its?
What do you want people who buy your whiz-its to know about them before they buy?
What is the future of the whiz-it business?

If you're interviewing someone who is a hero in his or her community or who serves others, you may use questions like:

Have you always wanted to be a politician?
Why do you serve as a public figure?
What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure?
What would you want to achieve if you could achieve one program this upcoming year?
What epitaph would you like to have if you could write your own when your term in public office is over?

4. Don't talk about yourself constantly. You've come to learn about the interviewee, not to tell them why you're wonderful. You already know all you need to know about you. You need to learn all you can about the one you've come to interview.

5. Make the interviewee feel comfortable, happy and complimented to get the best information you can from that person. Never take an adversarial position with the person you interview. Your job is not to tell them what you know but to learn what they know.

6. Keep your subject on track. One of the biggest problems with interviewing for information is that most people don't think logically when they talk and tend to not stay on the subject. If you're not careful, you may have two hours of interview with only five minutes of usable information. You need vehicles to pull the interviewee back to the subject or the question you've asked. Here are some tactics you can use to get your subject back to your original question:

"That's a great idea. I'd really like to hear more about it later but I really need to know what it felt like when you hung upside down in that pine tree when your airplane crashed."
"Hold that thought for just a minute. Finish telling me about why you think Hoover really needs trolley cars."
"Your grandmother sounds like a really interesting lady, but I really want to know why you think we need more parks in Vestavia."
"You know I really would like to know more about how you and your wife met, but first tell me why you believe having a curfew for teenagers is in the best interest of our community."
"I know God can do miraculous things, but I'm really interested in what He's done in your life, not so much in the lives of your friends."
"I think this story about you and your dog is terrific. If we have time, I'd like to talk more about it on the end of the tape. But right now, I really need to know why you decided to jump into that burning building to save a cat."

In many instances, you'll have to interrupt the person you're interviewing to get them back on track to give you the information you need. When you do interrupt, you want to the person to know you're interested in what you're talking about but for the moment, you're interested in the answer to the question you've asked. Your ability to keep the interviewee on the subject you're trying to obtain information about will determine how long the interview takes and how much information you get.

7. Get the story you go after. Everyone you meet may know of another good idea for a story. Most often, every interviewee will say, there's another story you really should write," Listen for two or three minutes before interrupting and saying, "That's a really great idea. I'll talk to my editor and get back to you on that one." Most people have in their minds the stories they want you to write instead of your writing the story you've got to get. Getting sidetracked is very easy.

8. Take a list of questions with you. It will help keep you and the interviewee on track. Then you'll get the information you need for the article.

9. Realize that you're creating a hero and providing the opportunity for someone to be famous. You're giving the average person the opportunity to stand in the spotlight and get publicity. Make them feel good about being in your article, and attempt to make a new friend. Some of the best friendships I have now I've made from interviewing people for magazine and newspaper articles.

10. Don't agree to send a copy of your article to people before it is published. All these people are saying is that they want the chance to edit or change the article before it runs in a magazine or a newspaper. Your standard answer is, "Well, I'm sure you'll enjoy seeing it in the newspaper better. The policy of our paper, because of close deadlines with the printer, is that we don't send preview copies of our articles to anyone."

11. A good newspaper interview never should require more than 30 minutes maximum, with 15 to 20 minutes being plenty of time to get all the information you need, if you're well-organized. A magazine feature usually will require one to 1 -hours with the standard being 45 minutes to one hour. Once more, the secrets for good interviewing are:

Put the interviewee at ease as quickly as possible.
Gather the information you've come for in a timely manner.
Don't waste the interviewee's time.
Be professional.
Try to make a new friend.

Interviewing gives you an opportunity to meet new people, learn new information, develop new friendships and make heroes of everyday folks.