Today, we take 7 juicy interviewing tips, and qualify them with a dose of reality to help you create interviews that sparkle.  Follow a system, and by the time you’ve got a few interviews under your belt, the process will feel like child’s play…

1.  Pick your interview subjects by their relevance to your topic:  However, don’t hesitate to be creative and think outside the box.  Go for the obvious industry choices… but look for the unique perspective, too.

For example, don’t just interview the top show jumper when writing an article on “What Makes a Champion Horse” – interview his groom too for a different perspective.

2.  Do your research:  Find out everything you can about your subject beforehand… but invest an amount of time proportionate to your project.  (In other words, don’t spend 3 weeks reading every book written by an author if you’re writing a newspaper article and you only need her to answer the question:  “What’s your favorite color?”

3.  Keep your interview focused.  Stick to the main angle you’re looking for insight on.  Don’t ask your subject whether or not he approves of Formula One Racing or invite him to comment on what he thinks of the current president if you’re writing a technical report on his toxicology specialty, neonatal drug ingestion.

This doesn’t mean you should snap out questions like a sixties Scottish schoolteacher (I’ve been there; I can say that with impunity).  It’s one thing if your expert decides to be conversational and comment on the current political situation (you can either include them in a way relevant to your article, or file them for a future subject) – but it’s just plain unprofessional for you to lose track of the topic and waste his time.

4.  Think of your question list as an “outline”, much as you would write one for an article or report, to help you stay on track.  Do have at least 1-3 specific, targeted questions for your subject to answer – but be prepared for tangents and don’t discourage them.  If you’re truly objective and open, you can score the unexpected bonus with your subject’s unsolicited observations; a new idea for another article or report; or simply just a “coup” that others haven’t managed to land from that particular interview subject.  However, being aware of your “outline” (and the questions you need to have him answer) will help you control the interview and get the most out of it – to both your satisfactions!

5. Don’t ask vague – or obvious – questions.  Your subject is most likely an authority figure in his or her niche, so avoid obvious questions that have been asked by other interviewers ad nauseam.  Ask the ones you need to ask – but do your best to come up with other relevant but unique questions that your subject will really enjoy answering.

6.  Give your subject a chance to shine.  Listen more than you speak.  Speak only to help the conversation along.  (One of the most common amateur interview mistakes is thinking that you and the subject are really bonding while you’re boring his ear off with your views on Tesla’s theories.)

7.  Remember you’re having a conversation.  The truth is, there’s a fine line between sticking to all these “rules” and breaking them to score interviews that really rock; ones that dig deeper than the other 99 that are all clones of each other.  But keeping it focused and keeping it fun will bring freshness and engagement to every interview you do.

Next post, we’ll finally get around to what I promised at the start of this series… 7 meaty sources of offline research material.

And if there’s any other questions about copywriting research you’d like answered… just ask!

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Filed under: Sales Copywriting