Good research, working equipment, monitoring audio, maintaining eye contact and making it conversational are among the tips for a great interview
A word of caution. This is a long post. Like the title suggests, it is all about interviewing for radio.
According to the Wikipedia (what else? ;-), an interview is a conversation between two or more people where questions are asked by the interviewer to elicit facts or statements from the interviewee.
This post will cover both pre-production and production phases of an interview.
Research: Research, research & research. Know more about the subject you’ll be interviewing, her work, her interests etc. Know why you wish to interview this person. Is she in news? Is she/ her work special? Are there contradictions? Is the person a relevant, reliable source? Why is this person interesting for our audience? Work on these questions and create a mind map. Most beginners skip these steps and turn in mediocre interviews.
- Pre-interview meeting: It’s important that you contact the guest/source and fix a meeting with her. You may want to explain the reason for the interview, get her consent and also check if she speaks well! Believe me some people are boring. If the person agrees, fix a time and place for the interview in advance.
- The questions: Writing out your questions is important. You have an astounding memory, but still, write down the questions. They come in handy for reference when you are actually conducting the interview. Use your mindmap to order your questions. But be prepared to ask supplementary questions. We will come to it shortly. Before I forget: Do not ask close-ended questions. Ex: Do you like going to book releases? What do you expect the interviewee to say? A better way of asking the question would be: Why do you like going to book releases?
- Dressing: I have had a couple of people calling me up and telling me they felt delicate when my students went to interview them rather casually dressed. I don’t wish to sound prudish, but I’ll say dress for occasion.
- Equipment: Again, I’ve had students who book equipment and rush to the interview. It’s only after reaching there do they realise that the battery’s run out. Or that the microphone’s not working well. I suggest that you do a test recording and check the batteries. In fact, carry extra batteries with you. Beginners also tend to forget the most important piece of equipment. Headphones. Headphones are crucial to monitor the recording.
Make the interviewee comfortable: Establish a rapport with the interviewee. It’s okay to do some small talk relevant to their life. Or even appreciate a painting hanging on the wall. On the other hand doesn’t mean that you sit in an awkward position. Sit in a position where you are able to point the microphone (about six inches away from the interviewee).
Choosing a place: A quiet place is the best for audio recording. By this I mean, choose a place that is relatively away from the main road, a generator that could boom to life or even a tinsmith’s shed! Okay, you’ve chosen a quiet room in the house, but then switch off the fan. Remember, fans/ air-conditioners can ruin your interview. You’ll know it when you wear the headphone.
Check recording levels: Recording an interview doesn’t mean you thrust a microphone into the interviewee’s face and reel off your first question. Ask her to speak for some time and check your recording levels. Most times, I ask them to recite a poem from fifth standard. This helps to break the ice and also serves your purpose.
Maintain eye contact: Okay, you have a set of questions and a time limit. This doesn’t mean that you drown yourself in your notebook! Looking them in the eye and nodding from time to time reassures the interviewee and demonstrates that you are listening. Do not keep saying “Hmmm”, “Aaa”, “Oh!” all the time. A nod or a smile in response should work.
Make it conversational: Hopping from one question to another will sound very mechanical on radio. Try to take off from the response, summarize the response or say, “So from the background you came from, how easy was it to…” or some thing like that.
Listen: I needn’t stress on this more. Very often, when you ask an uncomfortable question, experienced interviewees tend to ramble of and take you in an altogether different direction! To bring them back to the interview you need to listen. The interviewee’s response to a question can lead you to another supplementary question and a more interesting answer.
Do not interrupt: Yes, some people have the habit of giving long answers. It’s okay. You can always shorten them at the editing stage. If the answer is too long, try to summarize the answer by saying, “What you essentially mean is…”
Silences are okay: You ask a question. There’s a bit of a silence. That’s okay. The interviewee is perhaps recollecting things or trying to frame an answer. Allow for those silences.
On/ Off the record: While most responses might be ‘on record’ responses to some questions that might put the interviewee (say a controversial person) in an awkward position. She might say, “Off the record, let me tell you that…”. Respect the interviewee. Eliminate these portions at the editing stage.
Rewording questions: Experienced interviewees may not answer your question to your satisfaction. Do not hesitate to reword your question and ask it again.
Before ending: Ask the interviewee if she’d like to add anything that you may have probably missed out on.
Thank you: Do not forget to thank the interviewee, however, controversial and emotional the interview may have been. After all, she has taken the time out to answer your questions.