Sometimes you’re just stuck conducting an interview by phone. Many of the same rules of interviewing apply, but if you want to use the audio for a story, you’ll need to handle some aspects of the the conversation a little differently.
1. First, be sure the person you’re interviewing knows you’re recording the conversation. In some states it’s required by law, and it’s just good journalism practice. (Note: Many thanks to Barbara Croll Fought, journalism prof from Syracuse, who shared the following: “Beyond state law, the FCC requires that all broadcasters alert persons they are recording to the fact before they start.” Fought says ignoring this could mean a $10,000 or more fine.)
2. Location, location, location. Don’t do the interview on a cell phone, if you can avoid it. Try to find a quiet spot, away from other people, the TV, even your own desk to minimize potential distractions.
3. Be prepared. You need to do enough research about the person you’re talking to and the subject matter to ask intelligent questions.
4. Come up with a list of questions, but use them more as a guide than a “to-do list.” You want to be listening well enough to follow up on interesting or important points.
5. Ask open-ended questions, those that need a more detailed response. You’re hoping to get sound bites packed with personality, emotion or expert opinion.
6. Control your interview. It’s harder to keep someone on track when you’re talking by phone than in person since you can’t use body language or facial expressions to send signals. If he or she starts to ramble, you might have to say something like, “That’s good information, but what we’d really like to know is…”
7. Don’t talk over the interview. Unless you have to interrupt to redirect the interview, keep your mouth shut. You don’t want to lose a great sound bite because you’re saying, “Really? that’s interesting.”
8. Take notes during the interview. This may seem unnecessary since you’re recording the call, but it does two things: first, it keeps you focused and listening and second, it helps you ask better follow up questions.
9. Stand and deliver. Believe it or not, you will sound more energetic and conversational if you stand up while you conduct your interview. Don’t be afraid to smile when it’s appropriate either — it will actually change your vocal quality and help you sound more human.
10. Practice! Especially if you’re new to this, rehearse the interview ahead of time — ask your questions out loud to see how they and you sound. You may notice tongue-twisters or other issues that will make it harder for you to sound as professional as you would like.
The phone may have been around a long time, but it can still be an excellent tool for multimedia newsgathering.