I have a tip for everyone regarding interviewing. In my experience, I have seen that there are some people who recognize they are not as skillful at interviewing as they would like to be. But it is interesting to me how many (and this is a large number) think they are very good at interviewing, but they really aren’t. It’s kind of like driving. I have met next to nobody who doesn’t think they are an expert driver – yet, few of them are. And so it is with interviewing – far too many people think they are experts, and a good proportion of them are wrong.
I just finished Neil Strauss’s Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead. Neil has been a journalist for twenty years and, in that time, has interviewed people representing all aspects of the music scene. He has talked to people from Bo Diddley to Loretta Lynne to Lady Gaga to The Funerals to Lucia Pamela to Henry Grimes to Rick James to Katey Red to Leonard Cohen to Hanson to ? and the Mysterians to Jordy to Slipknot to Chuck Berry to … sorry, I got carried away with myself.
The book is not a collection of his articles. Rather, what he has done is transcribe small sections of his interviews providing a different insight into the interviewees. In putting the book together this way, he also shows a little something about his technique.
You can see from the way the interviews go that Strauss is not necessarily following a formula, not following a list of questions. Rather, he is engaging people in conversation. And, from that conversation he is getting to the truth he is trying to find.
Which leads to the tip.
Don’t follow a formula. Don’t follow a set of questions. Don’t read to the interviewee. Rather, engage the person in a conversation. You are still in charge of the interview, so you must know what you want to ask and ensure the discussion goes that way. But by having a conversation rather than an interview, you will usually learn more than you knew was out there.
(And one other tip - don’t forget to take notes. But that’s part of another story.)