If you’re a blogger, a freelance writer, a journalist, or even a student with Ooligan Press, your chances of needing to interview someone at some point in time are pretty high compared to the general populace. Some people have the foresight to prepare by majoring in journalism or doing an internship. The rest of us pretty much make it up as we go. For the untrained legions, here are some tips to help your interviewing experience go smoothly.

Practice with people you know. The first real-time interview I conducted was with my brother. It’s nice to interview someone you know well, most notably because you won’t be nervous. It’s very low-risk, so you can focus on the conversation instead of the butterflies in your stomach. If you’re planning to interview someone you don’t know, I highly recommend conducting an interview with a good friend or family member first. Be sure to treat it like a real interview for maximum effectiveness.

Prepare like crazy. This is the time to unleash your inner perfectionist. The first thing you should do is research your interviewee and their profession. This will allow you to choose an angle from which to approach the interview, which I recommend doing. Make sure it’s interesting, then fashion your questions according to that angle. I interviewed my brother about how he prepared for auditions, and I talked with singer-songwriter Ginny Owens about the intersection of art and faith in her work. Unless you exult in winging it, I also recommend actually writing out your questions ahead of time.

Record real-time interviews. I have outstanding typing-while-listening skills, and I successfully typed during my over-the-phone interview with my brother instead of recording it. Since it worked so well, I used the same technique later when I interviewed Ginny Owens, whom I’d never met before. As it turns out, she talks a lot faster than my brother. I had trouble keeping up, which distracted me from the actual conversation. Next time, I’ll record the interview so I don’t miss anything. (As a side note, don’t forget to let your interviewee know that you’ll be recording them, and make sure they’re okay with it.)

Be flexible. Since you prepared like crazy, you’re free to be flexible during the interview itself. You’ll still be asking questions, and your interviewee will still be giving answers, but insofar as you’re able, treat the interview like a conversation. Keep your eye on the clock so you don’t abuse their generosity, but be willing to go off script; anything can happen, and actively listening and responding will allow you to ask follow-up questions if your interviewee says something you weren’t anticipating.

Give yourself plenty of lead time. Conducting an interview sounds simple enough: you think up some questions, you ask the questions, and you type up the responses. But there’s more to it than that. Interviews might get rescheduled. They might require some follow-up later. Transcribing the recording will almost certainly take much longer than you think, and when you’re done with that, you still have to put it in some kind of order or incorporate it into an article. That can take a while too. So unless you enjoy being stressed out, give yourself plenty of time between the interview and your due date.

I hope you find these tips useful when you schedule your next interview. I learned most of these the hard way. You’re welcome.

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