In college, I got my dream internship working for an entertainment news wire. Every day I was required to interview people from all walks of life and write four to five short stories to go out to our subscribers. It was up to me to pull the most newsworthy or outrageous quote and work a story around it. This was a few years before Twitter entered our lives and celebrities voluntarily shared every mundane detail of their lives, so finessing an interview to get a good angle was key.
This job was like journalism boot camp. Not only did I learn a lot about life in a newsroom, but I also learned how to get my interviewee to say something printable in the shortest amount of time. Sometimes I would only have ten minutes on the phone with a television star or one shot at a question on a red carpet and I didn’t want to blow it. Instead of wasting time on throw-away questions, I had to learn what questions would get a reaction the fastest and go with my gut. You never know when a story will present itself to you and if you train your ear right, you can hear the story write itself while you’re still interviewing your subject.
The same goes when you’re interviewing students and staff for yearbook stories. You want to engage people and write a story that people will not only remember, but talk about for years to come. You want to mine out those perfect gem quotes and highlight them appropriately.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t fret. Here are some tips I have picked up over the years to get that golden quote every time you sit down and conduct a yearbook interview – whether it’s the school principal or a student:
- Don’t hesitate to jump right in
As a journalist, it’s your job to get the scoop and that means striking when the iron is hot. Although it might be tough to ask the star quarterback about their squad’s big upset, it’s important to get their reaction to the loss to enrich the story. Your audience isn’t dumb and will wonder why you glossed over such an important topic. Being a journalist means taking risks and those risks might involve asking uncomfortable questions you might not ask in your normal life.
- Be bold
This goes along with tip #1. Be bold with your questions even if it’s a little controversial. There’s a way to get the answer you want without offending your interviewee. Feel them out. See how comfortable they are with answering questions and ease into the harder hitting stuff.
- Craft your questions ahead of time
If you have time, do your research ahead of time and jot down some key questions you want to ask your subject. That way you can remember angles you want to cover and keep on track as the interview progresses.
- Be conversational
It’s human nature to open up to someone with whom you feel a bond. Turning your interview into more of a conversation will help your interviewee feel more comfortable about sharing their stories with you. Have banter back and forth, be friendly, and watch the quotes fly.
You might find some holes in your story post-interview. Of course it’s important to ask “why” or “how” during the interview, but don’t be afraid to get in contact with the subject and ask them some follow-up questions to round out or clarify your piece. If it makes the story stronger, then go for it!
What interview techniques work for you? How do you craft your stories? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below.