Interview Do’s and Don’ts

 

Interviews are no longer just a matter for journalists. They are also becoming increasingly important in PR and media work. On one hand in content production for customers and on the other hand the media are increasingly grateful buyers of ready-to-publish content. But how do you actually conduct an interview? How do you get the interviewee to tell you more about the exciting things? And which rules apply? We asked a professional, journalist Sandra Casalini, for her advice and we will tell you the most important Do’s and Don’ts.

Interviews enjoy a rather dubious reputation among many people who have to face them regularly. And even those who are hardly ever interviewed usually have prejudices. No wonder but after all, nobody likes to be “pestered” – as for example Wikipedia also suggests in its definition: “Questioning with the aim of ascertaining personal information, facts or opinions”. This can sometimes feel like an interrogation. But that is exactly what an interview is not supposed to be. Because even if the question of what a “good” interview is depends on the beholder’s eye, the ideal case is obvious: an interview that is fun and interesting for the interviewer as well as for the interviewee and the audience. Therefore, an interview is no merciless question-answer game but an exciting and stimulating conversation. Here are the most important facts in brief:

DON’T: Always see the interview as the right form

Does an interview make any sense for the purpose that is to be fulfilled? Often it doesn’t. Is there enough to tell? Can the interviewee tell the content in a way that does not require lengthy explanations? Or would another form perhaps make more sense? Rule of thumb: When it comes to a specific event, a report is usually more meaningful. When it is about a person, a portrait makes sense – nothing is more tiring than someone who talks about himself for hours and hours. Interviews are a good form when it comes to a certain thing about which the interviewee either knows a lot or when his or her opinion is particularly interesting. 

DO: Preparation is key

Often interviews are seen as a simple, time-saving journalistic form because you don’t have to create your own text. The exact opposite is the case. No journalistic form is as elaborate as an interview – whether in print, audio or moving image. And with no other form the preparation is so important. After all, if you have hardly any idea what your interviewee is talking about, you will hardly ever ask meaningful questions. By the way: In contrast to portraits or reports, interviews require the preparation of well-formulated questions. During the interview, some may be added or omitted. 

DON’T: Not giving any explanations

Especially if the interviewee is not so experienced, he or she will appreciate it if the general conditions are explained. This includes, for example, counter-reading in print. The interviewee knows that changes can be made afterwards and that he or she doesn’t have to constantly pay attention to what is or isn’t said during the interview. For audio or moving images, a note that you can also repeat or cut something (unless it is a live interview) is useful. In addition, it makes sense to mark out the fields of conversation in advance. That means: Roughly what is being talked about. Often interviewees want to see the questions in advance.

DO: Being human

Who would like to squeeze personal information or opinions out of its opposite, may not hide himself behind an impenetrable poker face. Of course it depends a bit on who you’re dealing with but a statement such as “I’m (also) a bit nervous” or “I’m very much looking forward to the conversation and I’m curious to hear what you have to say” loosens up the atmosphere right from the start. Even during the conversation you may allow yourself a personal remark – “Oh yes, I know the feeling” – but please use moderation. After all, it is not the interviewer’s show but the interviewee’s show. 

Interview Do's und Don'ts Denver Airport CCO Patrick Heck im Interview
An interview with quite an audience: Ferris and Denver Airport CCO Patrick Heck in an interview during a gate event at Zurich Airport.

 

DON’T: Beating around the bush

They are present in almost every interview: The questions or topics that you absolutely must or want to address but don’t really know how. In fact, there is only one solution: take a deep breath and get to it. There are two ways to do this: without batting an eyelid, out of the blue, or with an announcement. The former is suitable for interviews with celebrities who are experienced in such situations. In addition, celebrities are often preceded by announcements from management which should not be talked about (“no questions about private life”). But: Interview professional Sandra Casalini doesn’t always stick to this either. Because the celebrity is professional enough to say that it’s nobody’s business or to talk himself out of it. Version two uses a kind of advance warning: “You know I have to ask this…”. 

DO: Express yourself in simple words

Especially in content productions with customers and especially when it comes to moving images, you may put words into the mouth of someone who is perhaps not quite so rhetorically proficient: “I imagined it to be something like this. Would that be realistic for you to say that?”. But be careful: stay flexible. The interviewee must be allowed to express his or her own opinion and it doesn’t have to correspond to ours. Nevertheless, it is important to be able to question the other person’s opinion at any time, especially if your own research has revealed other facts.

DON’T: Do it at all costs

A good interview is like a good relationship – it takes two. If someone evades every question, answers monosyllabically or doesn’t answer at all, it is totally legitimate to cancel an interview. It happens very rarely, but it happens. When you realize that you could hardly deliver anything halfway satisfactory with the material you’ve got so far, you can politely and firmly say that any further question would probably be a waste of time.

DO: Follow the rules

The interviewee has a right to his/her own word. This means that the interviewee is allowed to read print or online interviews before publication and to modify his/her answers. However, this doesn’t apply to the questions. In the case of sound recordings, the right exists to have certain statements cut out. Basically, there is no doubt about that – but compromises are usually found. Especially since the interviewee is also interested in being as open and honest as possible. 

Whether it’s a celebrity revelation, an expert tip or the latest must-have gadget: every story has its place and not always the same vessel is suitable for telling the story. If an interview is the right form, there is not much that can go wrong with our Do’s and Dont’s – whether in front of the camera or face to face with a celebrity.