Over the past five years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of fascinating individuals. Anyone worth writing about has an interesting story to tell, whether they are artists, community leaders, or everyday folks who have done something extraordinary. Getting their story on paper, of course, requires an interview. I’ve compiled some advice that I’ve learned over the years.

I’m assuming in this blog post that this is an in-person interview. Phone interviews are fine, of course, and sometimes necessary if the contact is traveling. Basic equipment for an interview includes: a voice recorder ($30), list of questions, notepad, and pencil.

Why a pencil and paper? Even though the voice recorder is doing the heavy lifting, I like to take notes as I conduct an interview. I often come up with questions in the course of chatting that I scribble down and ask between breaks. The most important part of an interview is done before meeting. Learn about the subject’s background and develop insightful questions. The interviewee will appreciate thoughtful questions over generic ones. Interviews should be more conversational and relaxed. The less formal you are, the more relaxed he or she will feel. If you have questions that may be seen as controversial, save those for last. It would be a shame for an interview to end prematurely because you started off with the “hot button” topic.

For a short article, I general set aside 30 minutes. For a cover story, an hour will suffice.

Transcribing the interview is an important step. Personally, I’ll notice things I didn’t during the first interview. If I type what I think will be an important quote, I usually bold it or add exclamation marks that make it easier to find later on.

And finally, have fun. Many of the folks I’ve interviewed have become friends later on. Interviewing people is great way to learn about your community and grow as a person.

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