“People will share more with you if they feel they are really being listened to and responded to, rather than just being thrown a string of questions.”
One of the most rewarding parts of my work is when I get to sit down with people and listen to their stories. Over the years I have interviewed politicians, CEOs, celebrities, medical professionals, patients, carers, academics and people on the streets. I never get sick of listening to the different experiences and perspectives that make up peoples lives. Here are some of the key things I’ve learnt about getting the most out of an interview.
Research: It’s really important to understand the area and topic back to front, because this frees you up to have a real conversation. If you are unprepared, you find yourself scrambling to keep up and vital trust and connection is lost. As different industries use different language it is important to be well versed on the topic going in.
Listening:Listening is everything. People instinctively know when you are actually listening to them, or whether you are thinking about your next question. Keeping eye contact with the subject really helps here. You need to show them you are with them every step of the way, especially when they are sharing personal or sensitive information.
Flow: Allow the conversation to follow a natural path and not be overly focussed on asking every single question of a predetermined ‘checklist’ (although I always have a list of questions as backup). People will share more with you if they feel they are really being engaged, rather than just being thrown a string of questions.
Keep it simple: Ask simple, clear questions that build on the last, keeping the focus on them and the flow of the story. Longwinded questions can confuse, and are often designed to demonstrate the knowledge of the interviewer, rather than help the subject express themselves.
Environment: Conducting an interview in surroundings where people feel the most comfortable will always enhance the chance of a quality interview. Filming at their home, their office, a favourite park will help bring out aspects of the subject’s story and personality that might otherwise be hidden.
Humanise the process: Cameras can make people freak out, especially first timers. If the interviewee appears particularly nervous, I always remind them that we can’t fail. It’s just the two of us having a chat. And the magic of the edit process takes out all their blunders so, regardless of their performance, we will inevitably make them look good. So they might as well relax and enjoy the process!