Interviewing Tim Hunt Interviewing with a recording device Credit: Paloma Baytelman
Whether you're interviewing someone face-to-face or over the phone, a solid interviewing technique is the key to gleaning first-class quotes and material. 

Do your homework
Find out as much as you can about the person you're going to interview. Knowing as much as possible makes you look prepared and interested in the person you're interviewing. It also reduces the likelihood of any awkward situations or misjudged questions that could result in your interviewee clamming up. I once interviewed someone who had a prosthetic right arm (something I only found out during my research). Being unaware of this fact could have made greeting the person awkward and could have set the interview off on the wrong foot. Researching people before you talk to them is essential to getting the most from an interview and ensuring things run smoothly.

Reliable recording kit
Decent recording kit is essential. You may be a whiz at shorthand, but a digital backup is proof that the quotes you've used, have actually been uttered. The most efficient kit I've used in my decade as a journalist has been a high quality dictaphone for face-to-face interviews, which I use with an in-ear recording mic for phone interviews. In-ear recording mics are easy to use and versatile, recording two-way mobile, landline and headset calls. There are also some really useful pieces of software that record internet phone conversations (handy for overseas phone interviews). Whichever recording devices you decide on, make sure that you know how to use them, and charge them fully before an interview.

Plan your questions
Plan the questions you'd like to ask beforehand and print them out in the order you would like to ask them. If the person you're interviewing goes off on an interesting tangent that you want to pursue, having your questions in front of you will help to get the conversation back on course. Open-ended questions will encourage in-depth answers as opposed to short yes/no replies. If you have a time limit, prioritise your questions accordingly.

Putting people at ease
Unless you're after a provoked reaction, the best way to get people to talk is to make them feel comfortable enough to open up. Explaining the purpose of the interview before you start can help to put people at ease. Some people are nervous of being recorded but often relax into things when you explain that it's purely for transcription purposes. Take note of your interviewee's body language and/or tone of voice, to gauge if you need to do anything else to put them at ease.

Setting the tone
Make sure you dress appropriately for the occasion if you're interviewing somebody face-to-face. A power suit is a great choice if you're interviewing the CEO of a bank, but not quite the right fit  for an interview with a 7 year-old about their winning entry for a junior baking competition. Generally speaking, being professional, confident and open will enable you to lead the interview, and ensure that your interviewee is comfortable enough to get talking.

Although it can be tempting to interject half way through an interviewee's sentence with your own thoughts, be aware that it can ruin a great quote. When your interviewee is speaking, an interviewer's main role is to listen. Acknowledging their opinions with a nod of your head, or a simple 'yes', or 'I see' is a good way to show you're listening without breaking their verbal flow.

Be interested
Interviewees often have their own agenda e.g. an album, book or product launch that they want to mention. Avoid cutting them short if your time constraints allow it. You may not use the information they give you, but they will feel heard and people often open up more easily to other questions if they feel they've said what they wanted to say.

Leave contentious questions until the end
Put difficult questions at the end of the interview to avoid a negative change of tone early on. Using the third person is a good way to distance yourself from any difficult questions you have to ask your interviewee e.g. "Some people have called your approach heavy handed. What would you say to that?" rather than "I've noticed you can be heavy handed sometimes. What would you say to that?"

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Images by
Paloma Baytelman and Magnus Franklin on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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