Interviewing people is a key part of a freelance writer’s work. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing blog content for a nonprofit, profiling employees, creating content marketing, or writing a technical document, at some point you will be interviewing people.
In the last month or so, I’ve interviewed about 5 people. And I only work 2 days a week as a freelancer. For example, I interviewed Eliza Allen on her trek with donkeys, a community group on their dreams for a local recreation reserve, and a nonprofit grants manager about her grant application process.
Some writers hate this, and others really love it.
I’m somewhere in-between. For those who like thinking about the intro/extrovert balance, I’m definitely on the introvert side. So, I used to struggle to make phone calls to arrange meetings, and then meeting them was stressful. However, I’ve had to learn to do it; without interviewees, my writing would be boring, ineffectual, and plain wrong in many instances of fact.
Thankfully, I was pushed a little to engage with people by my professional experiences as a teacher and youth worker, but even if you don’t have those kinds of experiences, you can do a few simple things to improve your experience and enjoyment of interviewing.
1. Use a staged contact process to get in touch with an interviewee
I have never cold called someone. Ever. It makes me nervous: I stumble over my words as a try to explain, who I am, and what I can do for them. Instead, I contact them using an email, LinkedIn connection request, forum contribution, or social media comment. Just something that can alert a potential interviewee that I am out there and that I want to connect. For an interviewee who is going to play a prominent role in a piece, I definitely email, as I can explain exactly what I am after. Having this existing connection means I feel way more confident when I make a follow-up call in a week’s time.
2. Treat all interviewees as Subject Matter Experts
Most interviewees are rapt that you want to talk to them. It’s likely they do their thing without many people noticing, and the idea that someone would like to “pick their brain” is exciting to them. So, it doesn’t matter whether they have a PhD or are simply someone who used a toothbrush you need to review, treat them as you would a subject matter expert (SME). Be curious. Be sincere.
3. Be prepared AND fluid
This isn’t some kind of Zen approach to interviewing, but a way of increasing your confidence before and during the interview. Preparation of important questions makes you feel confident before the interview: make sure crucial questions are written and have some way of reminding yourself that they need to be answered (highlights, stars, etc). Then, during the interview, get the interviewee talking with your first couple of questions, but don’t stick fanatically to the questions. You’ll probably find that something interesting comes up unexpectedly; pursue it because you may find out something that your questions were never going to uncover. At the end of the interview, make sure your crucial questions were answered.
What other pointers do you have for enjoying the interview experience?