08. Interview techniques

Be it live in the studio or on the field, interviews are conducted everyday in a radio station. Radio journalists give a voice to as many people as possible. Because they all have something to say,  they bring news, react as politicians, businessmen, artists, ordinary people... to an event. Radio does not exist in a vacuum, it keep in touch with its listeners. How to properly conduct an interview? Here are a few rules.

Before the interview

First step : get background knowledge on the story and the person you will be talking to.

Work on your questions : help yourself with notes so as to ask them in an order that makes sense.

Introduce yourself : be it on the phone to schedule a meeting or when you’re arriving for the interview. Say who you are, who you work for, what you’re going to do with the interview (broadcasts some excerpts, most of it, all of it…).

Make your guest at ease telling him about the angle you’ve chosen and the stories you are going to tackle.

During the interview

Ask open questions : ask questions that begin with why or what do you think of rather than with is it true that… so as to avoid getting one-word “yes” or “no” answers.

Ask one question at a time : should you ask more than one, your interlocutor will answer the last one and forget about the others… and so will you.

Ask questions, don’t trumpet your stance : you are not there to take a side, make a speech or a commentary. Your goal is getting good answers. In order to get them, you need have thought up pertinent questions.

Listen to the answers carefully : there always are precisions, explanations to ask.

Know how to cut and interrupt politely : politicians will more often than not try to lose themselves in a digression so as to avoid answering. Gently drive them back to answering your questions so as to get what you came for.

Know how to help the interviewee : some people are taciturn or scared of the mic. Make them feel at ease, rephrase your questions.

If your interlocutor is avoiding answering or answering with another questions, it means your question is embarrassing or delicate. Don’t hesitate to calmly ask it again. You are the one in charge of this interview.

A few tricks

Show that you’re interested in what your interviewee is saying : look at him right in the eyes, nod, approve…

Refuse scripted answers : sometimes, people come to an interview with their answers already written out. Tell them it’s a bad thing, that they will look bad on air and will get lost in their script, when they do have all the answers in their head and will sound much better if they’re talking naturally.

During the interview, think of what you will make of it : a good interview is one out of which you can extract good soundbites. Before leaving, check your recording: listen to the end of the interview to make sure your audio quality is good enough for broadcasting.