Monday, March 21, 2005

Raise Your Stakes for Success

In a few hours, a high-profile author is going to call my office phone for an interview.  I’m working on assignment and looking forward to this interview.  You never know how they will go.

Over thirty years ago, I conducted my first interview as a writer.  After hundreds (maybe thousands) of these experiences, I know firsthand about the unpredictable nature of the interview.  I’ve had many things go wrong with an interview. Such as:

  • my tape recorder malfunctioned and I didn’t get a single quotation recorded
  • the person “forgot” about the interview and we never connected in person or on the phone
  • the celebrity didn’t stick to the schedule, called late and shortened my planned interview time so I wasn’t able to gather the story material that I needed to write the article.
  • the personality was completely exhausted and answered my leading questions (not yes / no questions) with a “yes” or a “no.” They had no story content to their interview and it involved a lot of creative work to pull together the eventual article.
  • the personality was so brilliant they were thinking five or six steps ahead of me. One author and I were exploring some fascinating material—and he would interrupt and say, “But why are we talking about this? The reader doesn’t care anything about it.” Well, I cared about it (as the person conducting the interview) but I changed gears to a different topic. It was a situation where the personality took over the control of the interview—and something to guard against.

To improve the possibility for success with an interview, I recommend several steps:

  • gather the greatest amount of background material ahead of the interview and carefully process all of this material. The material may be a new book, a press kit, interviews with other publications and a number of other sources for background information. Go through this material and use it for your preparation.
  • prepare a list of questions and possible directions for the interview. These questions aren’t the firm way the interview will happen—but they give you some possible directions.
  • during the interview always listen intensely and follow-up with a question if you don’t understand something

Interviews involve interaction with another person.  It’s beyond everything that you can control. I’m unsure how today’s interview will go. I’ve prepared for a successful interview and hope this will be the case.

Personally I love the “anything can happen” element in these interviews. Over the years I’ve heard it repeatedly from the people that I’m interviewing, “I’ve never said this _______ to anyone but….” Then they tell me an original insight into their character or personality.

I’m eager to see what happens in this interview.

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