Pro tips on how to conduct an interview

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I’ve interviewed a lot of people over the course of a year. Back when I was writing for TheBrownGirlFiles blog I conducted an interview once every week with a different creative person. An interview is a relatively easy way to add fascinating content to your written project. It provides information and insight into a person that you wouldn’t normally receive if you weren’t talking to them yourself. And the main factor that makes it so easy is that most people like being interviewed; I like being interviewed (please interview me more). So there is rarely ever a shortage of subjects. Maybe it’s just that people like to talk about themselves and the things they like without having to necessarily reciprocate that interest (an interview is not a blind date). Also, interviews provide exposure to the subject and the one conducting the interview. If you can produce a great interview it can be very helpful to your career (assuming your career involves some form of writing). So, here are a few tips to make your interviews as fun and informative as possible.

Ask big questions. Your interview is about the person being interviewed so make sure they have a lot to work with. You want to give them a lot to think about so that they can enjoy answering your questions. Even if your question is simple, find a way to word it so that the subject can get the most out of it to fuel their answer. You want big answers so that you have plenty to work with. Besides, the interview is about showcasing how awesome the subject is; the more they talk about themselves, the more they can shine. Why else would you be interviewing them?

Use the subject’s answers to lead into your next question. This is one of the most important tips. Pay close attention to the answers and find something within them to help you figure out how to properly word your next question. Most people already have all of their questions laid out pre-interview, but you want to leave room for a little flexibility as you never know what might come up in conversation (and you are having a conversation).

Personal banter. A little real talk can go a long way as long as you aren’t being invasive or disrespectful. One of my favorite interviews was with artist Joe Siness for Paper Darts Magazine because on occasion we would break out into casual conversation about things we liked and were into. I ended up with a lot to work with because he was so fun and interesting to talk to. I also ended up with another person to add to my list of people I’m dying to meet in real life.

Embrace your ignorance. When I interviewed Jana Brike, one thing that I knew about her and her work was that being from Latvia, Baltic tradition and folklore were huge inspirations to her work. So, I asked her to tell me her favorite Baltic folk story because I legitimately didn’t know anything about Baltic culture. The question, on the surface, didn’t seem to have much to do with art, but in reality it tied the interview together and gave those reading the interview insight into something they may not have known about before. You ask questions to get answers, and you’re not just getting those answers for yourself. It’s great to present what you know about your subject to your subject, but don’t be afraid of the information that you don’t have. Ask them what you truly want to know and not just what you think you’re supposed to ask.

I was thinking about doing a small interview series for this column, it’s been a while since I’ve done one and I’m starting to catch the bug again. If you like this idea or have any thoughts about who you’d like to see an interview from, just let me know.