How to interview someone

How to be a successful interviewer

Once you have decided on what you want to make a program about there are three stages to the interview:

  1. Finding the best person/people to answer your questions
  2. Preparing for the interview
  3. Conducting the interview


Research is often needed to find the best people to be interviewed. Facebook, LinkedIn, known contacts and general research will often lead to the right people.

Having found them you sometimes need to jolly them along and encourage them to take part in your program. Some people need coaxing, other people respond to a bit of pressure. But bottom line, no one is obliged to answer your questions or take part in your program (it’s their choice).

Prepare for the interview

Having done your research, write down a list of say 10 key questions. You may not get to ask them all, as one answer may lead you down another line of questioning.

Do not pretend you know it all. If you hear something that is new information that’s relevant to the interview, ask a follow-up question.

Sometimes experienced interviewees will says something such as: “Well of course you’ll understand why we made that decision…”

Well, no, you may not understand and don’t pretend you do if you don’t. And even if you do – your listeners won’t. Have your interviewee explain it in plain language so we can all understand.

Ask a question and listen if the interviewer actually answers it.

You: “Why did your company dump toxic waste in the river?”

Interviewee: “That’s a very good question and I want to answer that, but before I do can I talk about our competitor down the road and how they have just been convicted of miss-treating animals…”

You: “That’s very interesting, and we can look at that, but why did your company dump toxic waste in the river?”

Interviewee: “As you know we have been found guilty of that and paid compensation so we can’t really say any more.”

You: “Yes, but why did your company dump toxic waste in the river when there are facilities available to handle this waste?”

Don’t get excited and raise your voice or lose your temper because the guy sitting in front of your needs to be treated with respect for fronting up and if he ends the interview then you have little to work with.

During the interview

Silence is your friend when it comes to interviewing someone. Never be afraid of silence (particularly if you are recording an interview that will be editing before broadcast).

Ask one question and wait for the person to answer. As they speak you can nod etc, but try not to make any noises. Do not interrupt them, just let them talk.

Listen to what they say. They may surprise you and provide a whole new line of questioning.

Keep it balanced and if other people are mentioned in an answer, you must contact them. In the first place to confirm what has been said about them (good or bad) and to give them a right of reply.

If it is a live interview say: “well so and so aren’t here to answer that, so we need to move on…”.

Alternatively,  cut the reference to third parties out of the show (keep it simple).

Stay focused on the interview, stay in the moment.

  • Be ready to move guest on if they start to wander.
  • Keeps listeners in mind throughout.
  • Keeps interjections to a minimum.

Public relation firms

If at all possible, never call PR firms. They are not there to help you. They are paid to protect someone’s reputation.

Never send PR people your questions in advance. Just never ever do it (no matter what they say).

“Oh, everyone else sends us their questions.” Rubbish!

If you are not careful they will craft carefully worded responses for someone to tell you and you end up with a bland interview.

Always go straight to the person you want to interview. Email them, guess their email address if you have to, call them, go knock on their door. Always be polite and courteous.

Apart from ‘soft’ interviews, getting someone to be interviewed can be the hardest part of setting these things up. It’s almost a sales job convincing a reluctant interviewee to front up.

Bottom line

Your interview or program needs to take listeners on a journey. Your show should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Pose a question and give listeners an answer. Listeners should feel informed and better off having listened to your show, not confused or feeling less informed than before the show started.

Your show should be as entertaining as possible, flow and be engaging. If you get bored listening to it, then so will your listeners.

Stick to provable facts and ideally know the answer before you ask the question.

Centre Radio

Community Radio for Albany

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