My Dirty Little Secret — And 5 Ways to Beat Your Fear of Interviewing Sources
A couple of students in my current Write for Magazines class (next one starts Jan. 9!) have told me that they’re dreading the interview portion of the class, where they find and interview experts to add credibility to their queries.
Here’s where I reveal my dirty little secret: I don’t like interviews, either. By my very rough estimate I’ve done more than 2,000 interviews since 1997, and I still get a little bit of stage fright before each one.
I don’t share this to discourage you, but to let you know that even if you’re afraid of doing interviews, you can get through them and make a great living as a freelance writer. And believe me — the fear becomes much less intense over time.
Here are some of my tips for beating the fear:
1. Come clean.
If I’m interviewing someone on a topic that I don’t feel confident about, I usually just come right out and admit it to break the ice. I say something like, “I’m a newbie to this topic, and most of my readers will be too, so I apologize if some of my questions seem elementary.” I did that just today when interviewing an economist about the Profit Per Employee metric (don’t ask). Zap — tension broken!
2. Be prepared.
Even though I’ve done thousands of these, I never go into an interview without a list of questions. The trick is to write questions that will garner the info you need to bolster your idea and fill in any gape you have in your research. And don’t worry about writing down every single question you can possibly think of asking; write down the main ones and leave room in the conversation to ask questions on the fly. That way, it will be more of a normal conversation than an interrogation.
3. Don’t have an all-or-nothing attitude.
Many writers are afraid that they’ll mess up the interview, not get the info they need, and be stuck. Take heart: If you miss something, you can always go back for more. I like to ask at the end of every interview, “Is it okay if I get back in touch if questions come up as I’m writing this article?” Every single source has said yes — no exceptions. And I often do go back to them with a couple more questions.
4. Remember, sources are people too.
In 14 years I have never, ever (and I mean ever) had an interviewee make fun of me, hang up on me, or otherwise be a jerk. Now, I have had difficult sources like Run-On Ralphs and Product Pluggers, but there are ways to handle them.
5. Read these posts.
Diana and I have posted other tips in the past for helping writers beat their interview fear and get the quotes they need. Do check them out!
Are you afraid of interviewing? How does it affect your writing career? What have you done about it? Post your experiences in the Comments below! [lf]