BEFORE GOING ON THE AIR:
Know why you’re doing the interview. This is also known as “focussing” your interview. What exactly do you need to know from the person you’re interviewing? The clearer you are about why YOU think this is an important subject, the clearer it will be for your listeners.
Listen to your prospective interviewee carefully BEFORE making a commitment to have them on the show. Talk to them on the phone first. Do they know their subject? Are they a good talker? Can they talk about their subject in a way that ordinary people can understand? If yes, book them for an interview. If not, thank them for the useful information and look for another guest.
Plan your on-air questions in advance. Every good interview has a beginning, middle and end. By planning your questions in advance, you won’t have to make it up on the spot. If your interviewee is a good talker, you will need less questions. Figure on six questions for a ten-minute interview if your guest is reasonably verbose.
There are only six questions in every interview that really matter: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
Your interviewee may well ask if they can have your questions in advance or at least ask what they are likely to be. Resist this one as many inexperienced interviewees will try and prepare an answer and remember it – and the result will sound rehearsed and artificial. However, you may want to give them some broad directions as in “I will obviously want to talk about winning the gold medal and maybe find out a bit more about your training, any personal plans you have…” This usually reassures people but they are not tempted to ‘memorise’ answers.
Try and have a few minutes with the person before the programme so that they feel at ease with you.
Write the intro you will use on air. Do it before the show. The most important function of the intro is to “hook” the listener. Make it catchy and appealing. Most important, tell your listener WHY they want to stay around to listen to your interview. Don’t try to make up your intro on the spot. You have a lot to think about – making your guest feel comfortable, your upcoming questions, what the tech is doing in the studio. By pre-scripting you won’t run the risk of forgetting the person’s name who you are interviewing.
ON THE AIR:
Be organized and calm. If you are flustered, your guest will be flustered too. The best way to relax your guest is to be relaxed yourself.
Manage the mic:
Don’t fiddle with the mic – if it is a hand held mic, hold it comfortably and firmly then don’t move it because it will pick up sounds of your hands moving, changing over etc.
If you are using a wired mic, try to make sure than the cable is not coiled around on itself or crossing other cables as this can cause interference
If it is a hand held mic, keep hold of it at all times. If you are interviewing using a hand held mic, never give the mic to the interviewee, you hold it for them. At the end of your slot, return the mic to the floor manager.
Know how your mic is identified e.g Mic One or Red mic etc. As far as the techie is concerned, when you are interviewing you are not Joe Bloggs, just Mic Two! He may want to give you instructions such as “Mic 2, there’s a lot of background interference.”
The right distance to hold the mic is about one cigarette’s length away from your mouth.
Maintain eye contact with your interviewee – get them to talk to YOU not the microphone. Communicate visually by smiling, frowning, looking surprised etc – it will show in your voice and make it more lively.
If you are recording outside a studio, some interviewees will try and back away from you and your mic because you will be standing nearer to them than in normal social interactions and people react if you invade their personal space. Try sitting down instead – it stops people moving back.
If you are trying to interview in a public place, stand against a wall so that your interviewee will be looking towards you and the wall. This reduces the chances of them being distracted by things they can see and their voices will sound better than if they are speaking into a large space.
Keep your questions short and tight. The listeners want to hear your guest, not you. Your function is to get your guest to talk about the issue/subject. Don’t become part of the story by launching into editorializing, debates and commentaries — that’s not your role. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask critical questions. Just don’t make the story your own personal issue.) Avoid long and rambling questions. They are usually a sign that you don’t really know what your question is – especially if your guest has to ask “excuse me, what was the question?”
Stick to the questions you’ve pre-scripted. If something interesting comes up, and you have time, you may want to follow the tangent. But always return to your questions and keep the interview on track.
Avoid jargon. If your guest uses a term that your listeners won’t understand, ask “what’s that?”. Your listeners are not experts. Your role is to make the interview understandable. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations – tell them what the abbreviations and acronyms stand for. You can’t take it for granted that your listeners will know what a LAMP, an API, an LPFM or an LMNOP is. It is the same with technical terms (the ones that nobody knows unless they have a doctorate in the subject), assume listeners won’t know them either.
Watch the clock. If your interview is scheduled to go ten minutes, don’t make it fifteen. Or five.
Remember to thank the interviewer on air and use their full name for the benefit of listeners who have just tuned in. “Dr Joe Bloggs, thank you very much for talking to us this afternoon”. Or “Joe Bloggs, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this programme.”
AFTER THE INTERVIEW:
Listen to your interview if you’ve recorded it.. Figure out what you’d do differently next time.
Get used to hearing your own voice on tape. EVERYBODY says “I don’t sound like that.”. Guess what – you really do. So get used to it.
Listen to yourself as though you were a listener who doesn’t know you. Did you follow all the steps above? Use the experience to do an even BETTER interview next time.
Ask the other people working on your show for feedback.
And above all remember that interviewing is an art, not a science. There is no RIGHT way to do an interview. Develop your own style, and keep working on it.