1. Your greeting is important. I like to greet interviewees as if I already know them – obviously without being overly familiar. It’s about creating the pleasant atmosphere of greeting friends and being pleased to see them. Making an effort. Generally, appearing pleased to see them will help ensure that they’re at least halfway pleased to see you too.
2. Don’t rush to start your recording device. Take your time. Relax. You don’t need to record that pre–amble banter. Master the art of casually chatting and smiling a lot, exuding excitement to be here, while getting the device out of your bag and setting it up on the table.
3. Without wanting to get into the esoteric realm of positive and negative energy, it’s fairly obvious that the energy you inject into that room is likely to be reciprocated by your subject. If they’ve been sitting in a room all day talking about themselves and their work, causing their eyelids to feel heavy, then an enthusiastic, friendly journalist entering the room might help snap them back into something like full consciousness. If you’re excited – without resembling a tiresomely yapping Yorkshire terrier – then they’re more likely to feel the same. Excited interviewees talk more.
4. Quickly work out whether they’re the kind of person who will respond well to direct, sustained eye contact throughout, or will be uneasy if you continuously hold their gaze. Do whatever makes them feel the most comfortable, and their tongue will loosen as a result. As a rule of thumb, if they instantly make eye contact, then follow suit. Otherwise, apply eye contact in small–to–medium doses. Eye contact is powerful. It can establish trust, but at the other end of the scale it can intimidate or feel oppressive. Remember: no matter how confident and self–possessed the subject may appear in front of an audience, or on film, in person they could be the shyest person you ever met.
6. Towards the end of that opening pre–amble, mention how long a time–slot you have with them. They may not know. By telling them, you give them a sense of perspective on how long you’ll be spending together – and roughly speaking, how fast the conversation should go. If you’ve an hour together, they can relax a little more and perhaps speak at length. If it’s just a ten–minute quickie, they’ll get the message that they’ll need to be more concise and probably talk a bit faster.
7. It can often be a good idea to broadly and swiftly outline your aims for this piece. This will help relax them if, for instance, they fear you have some kind of negative agenda. Tell them that you really want to present the most informative and entertaining profile of them as a person yet. Or that you really want to document how they’ve bounced back, after that regrettable incident with the prostitutes and the crack cocaine.
Note: there is an alleged eighth way, but I wouldn’t personally recommend it. That’s why I’ve reserved it for this note at the end. I’ve heard about journalists who go out of their way to fake some kind of personality defect – a stutter, for instance – perhaps in order to make them seem like less of a threat and/or to make themselves more likeable.
I wouldn’t recommend this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a bit crazy. Secondly, if you can’t do it well it will inevitably come across like the world’s biggest and most ludicrous contrivance. Still, if you fancy giving it a shot… whatever works.
How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else is out now for Kindle on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon.de, where you can download the first few pages to your wireless device for free. It packs in 28,000 words of advice, drawn from my 23 years' experience of interviewing people. You can also get a Triple Pack of file formats (PDF, ePub, Kindle/mobi) direct from me. Full details here, you splendid individual.
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