Tips of the trainer - CONDUCTING AN INTERVIEW

1. Introduce yourself, say which paper or organisation you are working for and give a firm handshake. Ask if you can sit down and then exchange a bit of small talk. Explain if you are working to a deadline.

2.Make sure you establish a good rapport with the person. You need to get them to like you and to feel comfortable with you. Try to take down their defences and allay their fears.

3. Some people may feel worried if you produce a notebook and slam it down on the table. Be discreet. In some circumstances, for instance if you are interviewing a bereaved person, you may feel it is inappropriate to use a notebook at all. In these circumstances, you will need to memorise quotes and write them down as soon as you leave.

4. Ask the person to summarise the incident/subject for you. Their reply will give you the bare bones.

5. Then work through your list of questions. If the interviewee says something that merits its own line of inquiry, then either pursue it there and then and return to your main list of questions later; or make a note to return to it after you have completed your list of questions.

6. If the interview involves an incident, take the interviewee through the chain of events chronologically. The incident will have a history and an aftermath, so cover these, too.

7. Don’t interrupt. If you interrupt the person before they have finished a sentence, you may miss important information and quotes.

8.Maintain eye contact.

9. Study the person’s body language, dress, and so on. Make notes of these if they seem important.

10. Remember to check the names, ages, addresses, ranks and titles of everyone involved in the story.

11. Double-check the spelling of complicated names. If necessary, get the person to write their name in your notebook.

12. Listen carefully to answers and react like a normal human being to what you are told. You’re a person, not a robot. But give non-committal answers to controversial statements.

13.Make sure you get some quotes.

Ask questions such as: “What did you feel?” or “What was your reaction?” Avoid closed questions.

14. Be clear in your own mind about the information you are given. Do you understand it? If not, don’t leave the interview until you do. Get the person to repeat, explain and interpret.

15. There is no point in asking: “Is there anything I have missed?” The interviewee will not be able to answer this question: it’s your job to cover everything, not theirs.

16. It is best to mark your notebook as you go along. In the margin, note the best angles, quotes, and so on.

17. If you have to ask tough questions, it’s best to leave them until later in the interview, when the person is feeling more relaxed with you.

18. You can ask tough questions – but that doesn’t mean you have to be rude.

Try to maintain courtesy, but be as firm as necessary.

19.Watch out for people who do not answer your questions. This may mean they have sometime to hide.

20. Conclude the interview properly: offer your card and ask for a contact number in case you need to speak to the person later. Ask if photographs are available or if one can be taken later.

Finally, shake hands and say goodbye.

Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services E-mail: cleland.thom@tesco.net Website: www.ctjt.biz

by Cleland Thom

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