Updated: 06/12/2013

Interviewing Techniques


Do's and Don'ts

Of Interviewing


Do your research!

Know as much as possible about the person and the topic.

Otherwise you may come off looking like a bit of a dolt. Plus, you (or your boss!) may later discover that you missed asking the most important questions.

Don't rehearse or go through the questions and answers in advance. Although you may like to know how they are going to answer questions, if a person has just answered your question (off air), it's human nature not to repeat themselves again (on air). The best and most spontaneous answers are generally the first answers.TV Interview

At the same time it is a good idea to have some idea of where the answer will be headed -- so you can be prepared.

Try to quickly put the person at ease. Most people are nervous (and rather guarded) around cameras and microphones.  Thus, you may want to ask some easy questions at the beginning  --  maybe even questions about their hobbies, work, or kids that you fully intend to cut out of the taped interview  --  just to get the conversation flowing. And it should be a conversation, not an interrogation.

If the interview is being done "live" in the studio, make sure that the person can't see themselves in a monitor. (For non-professionals this can be a major distraction.) And wherever the interview is being done, try to get the person's mind off of the people and equipment being used in the production process.

Listen to the person's answers!

Many interviewers are so intent on the television process and formulating their next question that they don't really hear what the person is saying. In answer to one of your questions you won't want to hear, "Well, as I just said...."

Be ready to at least temporarily abandon your list of questions and immediately pick up on something unexpected that was said.

Think in terms of sound bites. This means asking questions that will evoke personal emotions, and not just factual responses.

Conceal your agreement or disagreement with the source. If you don't, you may skew the answers you are getting. Simply look intensely interested in what the person has to say (without nodding or frowning).

If you come across as disagreeing with an answer, the person may thereafter either steer clear of contentious answers or grow hostile. The popularity of contentious interviews on some cable channels notwithstanding, bullying sources or using coercion often backfires--and often closes the door to future interviews.

" You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

Diane Rehm, Public Radio, on Interviewing

Often, people who know they are going to be asked certain questions during an interview will rehearse their answers. Unless the person is an accomplished actor, this comes across as stilted and insincere, and, just what it is: rehearsed.

If this happens and the interview is being recorded, you may have to stop and explain that they need to sound more spontaneous, and then start over again. Generally, people will try to improve things.

Pre-production advice also carries into such things as clothes  --  calling attention to things that you know won't show up well on TV. (A male crew member may be willing to loan a male guest a more appropriate sports coat or a tie, for example; or a woman may be willing to take off highly distracting earrings or jewelry.)

During the interview make sure that terms, abbreviations, or concepts that the audience may not be familiar with are explained. You may even have to briefly interrupt the person being interviewed to ask what a term they are using means. In doing interview with a production person for a general audience you might need to interject: "ENG, that's electronic news gathering."

In recorded interviews you may want to ask a key question in different ways. This will give you different options during editing.

Try "non-question questions" surrounding tragedies.

If a person has just lost a loved one, for example, don't ask, "How do you feel right now?" (How do you think they feel?!) Instead you might say, "I can't imagine what you are going through right now." This not only shows empathy, but opens the door to a broader range of answers.

Use the source's own language in eliciting responses to questions they are trying to dodge. If they say, "I can't talk about that," try, "When can you talk about it?", or "Why can't you talk about it?"

Avoid two-part, or double-barreled questions. Not only is it hard to remember both questions, but they may just answer the question they are most comfortable with.

>>At crime scenes whisper or talk in a low voice. By making jokes at crime scenes that people can hear -- ever watch the beginning of the old Law and Order? -- you might poison key people against you, especially those who have suffered in the tragedy that you may later need to interview.

For additional points on interviewing see Crossing the Credibility Line.

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