by Suzie Eller
You’ve landed a contract for a profile article. It’s based on the story of a local hero. Of course, you have already discussed this with this person. You’ve talked with them about their story and asked permission, but now that’s a “go,” it’s time to do your in-depth interview.
In today’s Tuesday Tip, I’ll share four things to remember as you prepare and conduct an interview.
1. Always let them know when the interview is about to begin
It’s not uncommon to chit-chat as you approach the actual interview. It’s important to let the interviewee know when the interview has begun. They may say something in the warm-up that they don’t want in an interview. Once the interview begins, they are “on record.”
This simply means that the material they are sharing can be used in the article, unless they specify otherwise.
Let me give an example. You meet with the head of a non-profit for a profile piece. She rushes in a little late and says, “I’m sorry I’m late. My daughter is having a hard time at school and just needed a little reassurance.” You may find that a delightful way to show her humanity or showcase her family.
At this point, that information is off record. If it showed up in a profile piece it could be damaging to her relationship with her daughter.
2. Do your homework
Do your homework before the interview. If someone is the head of a non-profit, study their website. Read news or press releases about them. When you come in prepared, this gives you the opportunity to delve deeper into the human story, rather than trying to gather facts already available.
Be sure to conform your homework. It might look like this: I understand you and your family begin this venture in 2010. Your interviewee can confirm that it actually did start in 2010, but then add the personal interest story that goes along with the fact as you ask a follow-up question.
3. Ask open-ended questions
Prepare your questions beforehand. Be familiar with your questions. Have an end-goal in mind as you prepare them. When you sit across from your interviewee, ask several open-ended questions. (These are questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no.)
Bad example: You have always had a passion for lifting women of oppression. Am I right?
Good example: What fuels your passion for lifting women out of oppression?
4. Go wide and deep
A profile piece may be about one person, but you can deepen that as you add other voices into the piece. For example, you might share quotes from interviews with those whose lives have been impacted favorably by this person or organization.
In other types of articles, such as a feature article or even a how-to, you can interview several people with different viewpoints on the subject. You won’t use every quote, but it allows you to speak to a wider audience.
For example, you are writing a how-to piece on “How to Grow a Lush Garden in Raised Beds.” The expert gardener gives you tips, but perhaps an interview with someone who has no skills at all shares their challenges with raising vegetables in a raised bed. This allows you to speak to both the person who has a green thumb, and those who do not. It also allows you to approach the expert with those challenges.
Jump over to the COMPEL Blog and comment who your dream interview would be: is it a well-known author, a community leader or even your own pastor? On your own, write down at least three potential individuals for an interview. Now, make this a reality! Ask those individuals if they would consent to an introductory interview for a potential article and make sure to pitch the article idea to a potential market.
Looking for places to submit your writing or pitch freelance articles too? The Christian Writer’s Market Guide is a fantastic resource for writers in every stage of their writing journey.
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My dream interview would be with Dr. Brene Brown, research professor and author. I would choose her because of the research she’s done on the impact of shame and disconnection. Her writing style was honest, witty, and left me wanting more.
She’s pretty great, Melissa! I can see how she would be a great interview.