Whether I’m interviewing a physician, community organizer, or business owner, my goal is to conduct a good interview, which means that I need to do my research.  Before an interview I tend to read up on the basics and check to see if there’s anything new about my topic.  I tend to write health articles.  So, a quick online search using PubMed or Google Scholar may bring up some new research about my topic.  I also like to do a quick Google search on the expert, especially if a media relations contact provided me with the information; and by doing so I’ve found out information about the expert, such as a recently published paper or book he or she wrote that is also about the topic I’ll be discussing in the interview.

I do my best to try to cover all avenues when I’m preparing for an interview.  However, there can be some other issues that do come up.  And I realized that after a couple of interviews things don’t always go as smoothly as I anticipate them to.  Among these problems, here are the main interviewing mishaps I’ve encountered.

Voice Recording Drama

A few years ago, I was still using a tape recorder (I know, I know.  Don’t judge me), and on this particular day, I used it to interview a source about the work she was doing to restore landmarks and preserve natural spaces that would serve families in the community.  Well after such a great interview, I was really excited until I got home and began to listen to the tape.  Once I listened to the first few seconds my heart dropped–it was garbled.  I recalled that at one point during the interview, after glancing at the recorder, the tape appeared to be moving slowly and after quickly playing around with it. I continued with the interview.  Well, whatever I did seemed to do the trick because miraculously the rest of the recording was just fine.  Whew, that was a close one (and scary too)!

  • Solution: I went out and immediately bought an Olympus digital recorder (VN-5000).  So far I haven’t had any problems with this recorder and it has a great battery life, sound quality and slow-down feature when I’m transcribing.
  • Take Home Message: Shop around for a great recorder and ask other writers.  Also, check out the reviews on Amazon.com about recorders you’re interested in , which can be extremely helpful.  And use social media or forums to put your questions about voice recorders out there too.

Scheduling Changes

So I’ve had a few interesting scenarios when I get a call or an email from a source asking to speak earlier than our scheduled appointment.  And it’s worked out so I can be accommodating.  But there has been the occasional person who asks to reschedule many times.  I’ve also had times when I’ve been given a number to contact the source for the interview and he or she is MIA.  One time, a source’s assistant never even scheduled the appointment (I was taking deep breaths that day, let me tell you).

  • Solution: I’ve been interviewing many physicians.  So, my priority is to secure those interviews early on.  By doing this I give myself enough time to handle any changes like rescheduling because things happen.  If an expert constantly reschedules to the point where I’m concerned that the interview is not going to happen, I just thank him or her, mention my deadline is looming, and say that hopefully we’ll be able to work on a future article—which may or may not happen.  But the point is to always be professional even when things aren’t going your way.
  • Take Home Message: Once you get the go ahead on an assignment, work on getting your interviews scheduled.  And be flexible in your schedule and allow time to find other sources if scheduling problems occur.

Reeling in Runaway Interviewees

This type of interviewer has a tendency to veer off-course during interviews.  In the beginning, whenever I encountered runaway interviewees I was a bit nervous about interrupting them.  I felt that it would be rude to just interrupt someone while they were speaking.  So off they went leaving me to filter through a lot of information that didn’t really pertain to my article.  I realized I made the piece work with more effort than I needed too because I wasn’t assertive enough to enforce redirection when the interviewee went astray.

  • Solutions: When a subject is going off-course, I interject with a “That sounds great!” and then I try to piggyback by asking a question that ties in with what they’ve been saying back to my article, this usually works.  But for the harder, more talkative type this method may not apply.  So, I just redirect him or her to my specific question to stay on course.  One of the hardest interviewees for me tends to be the quick and to the point responder. It’s hard to gauge whether you’ll be interviewing someone with a larger-than-life personality or a more tight-lipped, terse type of individual.  For the chattier type, I tend to pose more specific questions to sway them back in the direction of my article. And for the more reserved interviewee, whose answers may be something I could have gotten from a textbook, I tend to do a bit of coaxing to draw out more explanatory responses.
  • Take Home Message: Be assertive and don’t let your source steer you away from your topic, stay in control.  However, conducting a good interview is also about balance.  So, don’t be so rigid that you don’t allow your source to talk a bit.  Sometimes when interviewees have answered my question I let them go on for a bit before moving on to the next question.  Doing so has gotten me some really great quotes, stories and new ideas.  Silence can be golden too during interviews.  It’s about feeling it out and knowing when it’s time to move on or wait a bit–you never know, you may get an idea for another story.

What are some interviewing blunders you’ve experienced, and what lessons have you learned from them?